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December 20, 2013

Migrant families divided by deportations -
The plight of many migrant children -
Fraternity viewed as key to peace -
Liturgy constitution at age 50

In this edition:
1. Thoughts for Christmas: migrant families.
2. Migration, flight from violence.
3. When parents are deported.
4. Unaccompanied migrant youths.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) At Christmas: world of darkness and light.
b) Liturgy constitution reaches age of 50.
c) Limits on gun sales.
6. Fraternity: World Day of Peace theme.
7. Homeless invited to pope's birthday.

1. Thinking at Christmas of Migrant Families

Life's reality for great numbers of migrant families is illustrated clearly and starkly in an "open letter" just issued by the Catholic bishops of the region bordering Texas and New Mexico on one side and Mexico on the other. Three true stories about migrants told in the letter give flesh to the plight of immigrants in America today.

These stories, say the bishops, "will help us to keep ever in mind that immigrants have faces, names and families."

I've chosen to report on the border bishops' open letter in this Christmas edition of the jknirp.com newsletter. In fact, though, the open letter was released at Thanksgiving time.

Still, it seems to me, the letter describes the plight of many migrant families in ways that call to mind the flight of the Holy Family after the birth of Jesus.

It is noteworthy that the Holy Family frequently is recalled as a migrant family, forced to flee violence after Jesus' birth and to seek refuge in a foreign place. In a 2007 statement on immigration, the Catholic bishops of Maryland said:

"In the New Testament we encounter our faith's most precious migrants - the Holy Family. St. Matthew's Gospel recounts the flight of St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus into Egypt to escape the wrath of a jealous king."

Now-retired Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco noted at Christmastime in 2011 that "in St. Matthew's Gospel we are told that very quickly the homeless Holy Family became immigrants in Egypt. Later on, much of the teaching of Jesus sprang from his love for the poor and his own experience of poverty."

With that in mind, and with Christmas upon us, I want to share with you one of the stories told in the open letter by the bishops of the border region. The bishops call it "Manuel's Story." It is the story of a husband and father who for some 27 years lived in the U.S., but who is apprehended and deported, and who finds himself painfully divided from his family:

"Manuel, 38, speaks softly on the sidewalk outside of the soup kitchen in Nogales, Sonora, on a cold January day on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. With tears in his eyes he talks about his experiences of the past week.

"'That is my country. I love my country. I never take from my country. I pay my taxes. I work. My kids were born over there in the hospital.' He nods in the direction of the border wall, about a mile from where we stand.

"A week ago Manuel was living with his wife and children in Las Vegas where he worked in the construction industry and his young children attend school. He lived an uneventful, satisfying life. That abruptly changed when Manuel went to the courthouse to pay a $75 traffic fine.

"When authorities checked his background, they learned quickly that neither he nor his wife was a U.S. citizen. Within a week, Manuel was arrested, deported and homeless. He was told that if he refused to sign a confession, his deportation would be fast-tracked, his wife would be arrested and his children left behind as wards of the state. He signed the confession.

"Although not a citizen, Manuel felt like an American: He had lived in the U.S. since he was 9. That is where he attended school, learned English, adopted the culture, and met and married his wife. The United States was his home. Now he wonders when he will see his family again and how they will survive without him."

In their open letter, the bishops of the border region affirm that "all children need their parents. Parents are to protect and nurture their children, and yet deported parents are prevented from living this fundamental vocation."

It is within the family structure, the border bishops add, that "hope, compassion, justice and mercy are taught most efficaciously." But "the current reality is tearing family life apart, thus feeding lawlessness and despair."

2. Migrants Fleeing Violence

"Our greatest concern as pastors and bishops on the Mexico-U.S. border has been, and continues to be, the difficult conditions faced by migrants and their families," say the Mexican and U.S. bishops who signed the open letter released Nov. 28. The letter calls special attention to the deportations of parents from the U.S. It also accents the violence that often prompts immigrants to flee their homelands in the first place.

"Over the past decade the landscape of violence in both Mexico and Central America has led this area of the American continent to be considered one of the most violent regions in the world," the bishops observe. "This social and human tragedy," they continue, "has produced a new flow of migrants from all social and economic classes, and needs to be treated as a humanitarian crisis."

The bishops underscore the role in this situation of "weapons sold by the U.S. to Mexico and Central American countries to help stem the flow of illegal drugs." The bishops explain that these weapons often fall "into the hands of the criminal drug cartels." Moreover, the bishops note, "these cartels are also supplied with arms by private dealers in the United States."

Lamentably, "the innocent are caught in the cross-fire of the violence that erupts so frequently." Faced with these conditions "created by the international war on drugs," the bishops insist that "families and individuals have the basic human right to seek safety."

3. Deported Parents

"In Fiscal Year 2011 the United States deported 397,000 people and detained nearly that many," according to the border bishops' open letter. It says that "despite the stated objectives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to avoid family breakups, a growing number and proportion of these deportees are parents."

During the first half of 2011, the U.S. federal government "removed more than 46,000 mothers and fathers of children who were born in the U.S." and who therefore are U.S. citizens, the bishops note, adding that "these deportations shatter families."

What happens to children when parents are deported? The border bishops explain:

"When undocumented parents with no serious criminal record are detained or deported, their U.S.-born children suffer serious consequences. They remain with guardians or other family members, or they are placed in foster care. These children will only be eligible to sponsor their parents to return to the U.S. after the children are 21. These children are, in effect, permanently separated from their parents."

From the church's perspective, "the aspect of immigration reform most urgently needed involves the formulation of a legal framework that helps keep families together," the bishops state. They add, "The life and dignity of every human person, our fundamental principle of Catholic social teaching, is lived within the family."

A particular concern for the border bishops is "the for-profit business model in the growing U.S. private detention center industry." For, "these detention centers raise serious questions regarding respect for the human rights of detainees, and vigorous lobbying from this industry is often cited as one of the reasons why comprehensive immigration reform has difficulty in gaining full congressional support."

The bishops suggest that "as federal, state, and local prison populations decline, the profits of this private industry depend on keeping the current immigration system in place with added detentions."

4. Children and Teens Migrating Alone

A "dramatic increase" is being seen today "in the numbers of unaccompanied children and adolescents, some as young as 5 years, migrating to the United States," according to the border bishops. But why?

"These youth are fleeing the violence of their homelands, hoping to reunite with their parents who preceded them or seeking work to support family members in their home country," the bishops inform readers of their open letter. The bishops are deeply concerned "that this relatively new population of young migrants is particularly vulnerable to the abuse and exploitation of human traffickers."

In addition, say the bishops, "all immigrants, especially women and youth, are vulnerable to a wide variety of mortal dangers, including assaults by violent gangs, rape and abuse by authorities and smugglers on both sides of the border."

Reports estimate "that 20,000 unaccompanied minors" have been making "their way through Mexico toward the U.S. border every year." However, the bishops note, "the number has greatly increased in the last two years."

The U.S. Border Patrol "reported apprehensions of more than 24,000 unaccompanied juveniles along the Southwest border" in Fiscal Year 2012. But the border bishops estimate that "the actual number of those attempting to cross the border is probably three times as many or more."

What happens when these children are apprehended? They often initially are placed "in short-term detention centers where the lights stay on 24 hours a day and there are no showers or recreation spaces," the bishops explain. They say that "at times the facilities are so crowded with juveniles that the children have to take turns just to lie down to sleep on the concrete floor."

The bishops also want people to understand that "when unaccompanied minors are apprehended and deported to their countries of origin, this is often done in ways that put them at additional risk."

Whether deportees today are adults or children, they often are sent, the bishops say, to "cities of northern Mexico where the pressures on migrant shelters are already enormous."

5. Current Quotes to Ponder

The world's darkness and light at Christmas: "Our culture promotes the ideal of instant gratification, an attitude that in itself tends to preclude hope. Indeed, we cannot hope for what we already have. But if all we choose to see is the darkness and deficiencies of our world, we will have lost sight of Emmanuel, God with us. Yes, there is much suffering. Wars are breaking out everywhere; there are frequent natural disasters; millions lack decent food, water and shelter. Surely this is not the world we want. How are we to perceive this situation? We have a choice: We can choose to see the world as a dark and hopeless place falling into ruin or we can choose to see a world where a compassionate God joins us in our sorrow. Is not this presence of God the great sign of the incarnation? Our Christmas story tells us that all people were called to Bethlehem to witness the amazing event that had taken place there: first the poor shepherds, and then even the wealthy magi. We, too, have been called to witness the Christmas miracle on Dec. 25 and throughout the year. As Christians, we can open our hearts to the light coming into the darkness and offer hope to a weary world through acts of charity, kindness and faith -- or we can let it go and succumb to the darkness. It is our choice. What we do, what we identify with, will support one side or the other, light or darkness as we choose." (From the Christmas 2013 message of Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y.)

Vatican Council II's Liturgy Constitution at Age 50: "As we consider the theology of liturgy in [Vatican Council II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy], it is important for us to realize that it was not something produced in hasty preparation for that council that caught everyone by surprise when John XXIII announced it. Rather, its thought is the fruit of a liturgical movement that preceded it by at least 50 years, articulating theological positions of a trustworthy pedigree. . . . 'Sacrosanctum Concilium' is not honky-tonk theology from the '60s, as some of its detractors would have us believe. Nor is it a document that suffers because the council's vision had not yet grown mature. It is the point of arrival of decades of serious thought and experience to which the bishops gathered solemnly together in council gave virtually unanimous approval. That is why it may be worth our while to review [its] theological positions again to be certain that we have them well within our grasp." (From a speech Nov. 8 by Benedictine Father Jeremy Driscoll of Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon. He teaches theology at Mount Angel Seminary and the Pontifical Athenaeum of San Anselmo in Rome. He spoke in Baltimore ahead of the U.S. bishops' fall general assembly during an event titled "Participation in the Work of God: A Scholarly Symposium Celebrating 50 Years of 'Sacrosanctum Concilium.'" The event was sponsored by the U.S. bishops' Committee on Divine Worship. Father Driscoll's speech appears in the Dec. 19 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

Limits on gun sales: 'We cannot ignore the threat to public safety that arises when guns are too easily accessible. Therefore, we support an initiative to the [Washington state] Legislature (Initiative 594), which places some limits on gun sales. . . . The purpose of Initiative 594 is to require a background check on the sale or transfer of all firearms other than antique firearms, for both licensed and unlicensed purchasers. We bishops have supported these provisions in the past and now support this initiative's reasonable inclusion of background checks for online sales and sales at gun shows. These modest conditions for legal purchase of firearms represent a prudent balance between concerns for personal liberty and public safety. In addition to this initiative measure, we also urge support by public and elected officials for policy initiatives to improve access to mental health care for those who may be prone to violence. Such steps would prove both effective and humane. . . . Our hope is that judicious steps to prevent gun violence will lead to greater respect for human life. We urge Catholics and all people of good will to seek consensus on initiatives that promote public safety while respecting our constitutional guarantees for personal liberty." (From a statement by the Catholic bishops of Washington state on an initiative proposed for a 2014 vote in the state.)

6. Fraternity, Path to Peace

Migrants often are "victims of disgraceful and illegal manipulation," Pope Francis states in his message for the Jan. 1 World Day of Peace. But the "tragedy" in the lives of migrants often is "overlooked," he suggests.

When a spirit of fraternity is lacking in society, many people are robbed of hope, and their legitimate ambitions are thwarted, the pope makes clear. He writes:

"Fraternity is an essential human quality, for we are relational beings. A lively awareness of our relatedness helps us to look upon and treat each person as a true sister or brother; without fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace."

Fraternity gives rise to "social peace," the pope says. That is because fraternity "creates a balance between freedom and justice, between personal responsibility and solidarity, between the good of individuals and the common good."

Human trafficking helps to illustrate the kinds of situations that develop when the "human vocation to fraternity" is not treated as a priority, according to the message. Pope Francis says that "the tragic phenomenon of human trafficking, in which the unscrupulous prey on the lives and the desperation of others, is but one unsettling example" of the many "grave offenses against fundamental human rights" today.

The vocation "to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another" frequently is "denied and ignored in a world marked by a 'globalization of indifference' that makes us slowly inured to the suffering of others and closed in on ourselves," the pope says.

He thinks, for example, "of the heartbreaking drama of drug abuse, which reaps profits in contempt of moral and civil laws." He thinks, as well, "of illicit money trafficking and financial speculation, which often prove both predatory and harmful for entire economic and social systems, exposing millions of men and women to poverty."

In this regard, Pope Francis thinks also of "prostitution, which every day reaps innocent victims, especially the young, robbing them of their future."

The 2014 message for the World Day of Peace is titled "Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace." Pope Francis insists that "fraternity needs to be discovered, loved, experienced, proclaimed and witnessed to."

Two opposed human tendencies are cited by the pope. He writes, "We have an inherent calling to fraternity, but also the tragic capacity to betray that calling."

The vocation to fraternity requires "the willingness to 'lose ourselves' for the sake of others rather than exploiting them and to 'serve them' instead of oppressing them for our own advantage," according to Pope Francis. The "others" in our surrounding world need to be seen not as "enemies or rivals, but as brothers and sisters to be accepted and embraced."

7. Fraternity on Pope's Birthday

"It's worthwhile being a vagrant because you get to meet the pope," a homeless man reportedly said to Pope Francis Dec. 17. The man was one of three homeless men living on the streets near the Vatican invited to have breakfast with the pope that day, his 77th birthday.

Carol Glatz, a Rome-based journalist on the Catholic News Service staff, reported that a small dog belonging to one of the three men also was on the guest list.

Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, invited the men to come to Mass and breakfast with the pope after finding them early that morning sleeping under the large portico in front of the Vatican press hall on the main boulevard in front of St. Peter's Square, according to L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

"Would you like to come to Pope Francis' birthday party?" he asked them. The men were from Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic.