home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page

February 27, 2016

Pope in Juarez, Mexico, speaks on jobs, migrants, dignity -
Two U.S. archbishops reflect on issues addressed at U.S. -
Mexico border -
Anti-Islamic attitudes in the U.S. today -
What is a living wage? -
Mercy in action

1. Papal Mass at the border.
2. Jobs and human destinies.
3. The challenge of migrants.
4. Migration, sadly divisive issue.
5. Visit to a Mexican prison.
6. Current quotes to ponder:
a) A living wage.
b) Mercy in action.
7. Anti-Islamic attitudes in the U.S.

1. Papal Mass on Mexican-U.S. Border

During his Feb. 17 visit to the border city of Juarez, Mexico, across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, Texas, Pope Francis focused on the human dignity of migrants and workers. He spoke of the atmosphere surrounding migrants throughout today's world both during a Juarez Mass and in an address to the world of labor.

After his Feb. 12-18 journey in Mexico concluded, some U.S. Catholic leaders reflected on the focal points of his visit to Juarez, including Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. I want to address their forceful remarks here, but let me begin with the pope himself.

The Mass celebrated in Juarez took place close to the Rio Grande River. As Catholic News Service reported, this river "has swallowed so many migrants over the years as they vainly tried to enter the United States." Actually, the Mass was a binational celebration, with thousands viewing it across the Rio Grande in an El Paso college football stadium.

The international humanitarian crisis "that in recent years has meant migration for thousands of people, whether by train or highway or on foot, crossing hundreds of kilometers through mountains, deserts and inhospitable zones," cannot be denied, pope said in his homily. "Forced migration," he commented, is a "human tragedy." It is a crisis to "measure with names, stories, families."

Pope Francis said that in Juarez, "as in other border areas, there are thousands of immigrants from Central America and other countries, not forgetting the many Mexicans who also seek to pass over 'to the other side.'" Theirs is "a journey laden with grave injustices," and "so many of these brothers and sisters of ours are the consequence of a trade in human trafficking, the trafficking of persons."

The pope proclaimed: "No more death! No more exploitation! There is always time to change, always a way out and always an opportunity, there is always the time to implore the mercy of God."

2. In Juarez: Jobs and Human Destinies

"What kind of world do we want to leave our children?" Posing that question in a Feb. 17 speech in Juarez, Mexico, Pope Francis followed it with yet another pointed question: "Do you want to leave them the memory of exploitation, of insufficient pay, of workplace harassment, of trafficking in slave labor? Or do you want to leave them a culture which recalls dignified labor, proper lodging and land to be worked?"

Today, the pope told an audience that included representatives of workers' organizations and business associations, the "ethical dimension of business" gets lost from view, and it is forgotten "that the best investment we can make is in people, in individual persons and in families."

In these times a "paradigm of economic utility" is imposed "as the starting point for personal relationships," he remarked. Thus, "the prevailing mentality everywhere advocates for the greatest possible profits, immediately and at any cost."

This, the pope said, places "the flow of people at the service of the flow of capital, resulting in many cases in the exploitation of employees as if they were objects to be used, discarded and thrown out."

He acknowledged that "it is not easy to get along in an increasingly competitive world." However, he continued, "it is worse to allow the competitive world to ruin the destiny of the people."

The pope insisted that "profit and capital are not a good over and above the human person; they are at the service of the common good." Moreover, he stated, "when the common good is used only at the service of profit and capital, this has a name: It is called 'exclusion,' and through it the throwaway culture gets stronger and stronger."

The way to approach these issues is through dialogue and encounter, Pope Francis stressed. He said that "one of the greatest scourges for young people is the lack of opportunities for study and for sustainable and profitable work, which would permit them to work for the future." He added:

"In many cases -- many cases -- this lack of opportunity leads to situations of poverty and rejection. This poverty and rejection then becomes the best breeding ground for the young to fall into the cycle of drug trafficking and violence. It is a luxury which today we cannot afford."

He exhorted his listeners never to "tire of pursuing dialogue." Of course, more is needed "than dialogue and encounter." However, "today we do not have the luxury of missing any chance to encounter, any chance to discuss, confront or explore."

That, he said, "is the only way we will be able to build for tomorrow, to create sustainable relationships capable of providing the needed framework that, little by little, will rebuild the social bonds so damaged by a lack of communication and by a lack of the minimal respect necessary for a healthy coexistence."

It is time to "dream of a Mexico that your children deserve," Pope Francis said. This will be "a Mexico where no one is first, second or fourth" and "a Mexico where each sees in the other the dignity of a child of God."

3. How to Approach the Challenge of Migrants

How should the "global, national and local challenge" reflected in the lives of migrants and refugees be addressed? Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley raised the question in his Feb. 19 blog on the archdiocesan website, where he reflected on being present in Juarez, Mexico, during Pope Francis' Feb. 17 visit there.

In the cardinal's eyes, the pope's visit to Juarez was "providential" because, though a global crisis surrounds migrants, "democracies of East and West are having enormous difficulty thinking about, speaking about and acting upon the crisis in a productive way." In the U.S. "the question of immigration policy . . . has produced both powerfully held convictions and deep divisions. These in turn have made a rational response to the crisis virtually impossible to achieve."

Politically and legally "we are in gridlock," said Cardinal O'Malley. While this is "a condition which democracies often face," in this case it "seems to be a permanent condition."

But "in the midst of this division, in the face of debates which often lack civility, much less compassion, Pope Francis focuses on the human dimension of the immigration crisis," the cardinal stated. This "human dimension involves two profound truths: the dignity of every human person and the common humanity we share as persons."

The cardinal observed that Pope Francis always approaches this issue by beginning "with the person, with his or her dignity, with their humanity, with their needs and the dangers they face each day." Consistently, the pope's ministry has "been about reaching across boundaries and frontiers which seem impregnable, but in fact are open to human initiatives and humane policies," Cardinal O'Malley wrote.

He noted that "migrations have marked human history for millennia; today they have reached historic proportions." This "fact of life" thus "becomes a national question as states must shape national policies in a globalized world."

But, said the cardinal, "because human lives and human dignity are at stake, it is reasonable to expect that national policies will combine secure standards of safety for states, compassion toward those often in life-threatening situations and recognition that policies of nations like the United States will establish precedents, good or bad, for others."

Cardinal O'Malley hopes that Pope Francis' "visit to the U.S.-Mexican border will help us all -- of many faiths and of none -- focus on dignity and humanity." The cardinal wrote:

"Our world produces, through choice or coercion, the fact of migration. Our country must produce a policy which combines compassion and safety. Our convictions, religious and rational, are challenged and invited to use the necessary standards of compassion and effectiveness to meet this crisis of our time."

The way people think about migrants and refugees -- "how we speak about them, how we decide policy" -- will be influenced powerfully "by how we see them," Cardinal O'Malley commented. "They can be called migrants or refugees, they can be described as Syrians or Salvadorans, they can be known as Muslims or Christians." However, he said, "it is a mistake to begin in this way, and a failure of moral imagination to end this way."

For, "none of these titles, while important eventually, touch the deepest meaning of the immigration crisis." The cardinal stressed that "before all else, in every migrant, refugee or family escaping danger and destitution we meet the human person, sharing our humanity, sharing our vulnerability to conditions of war, conflict, poverty and discrimination."

He feared that "too often our public debates about immigration focus on secondary characteristics of human identity." But while "religion, race, ethnicity and nationality are important," they remain "secondary to human dignity and human uniqueness," he wrote.

4. Immigration: Sadly Divisive Issue

"It is sad that immigration has become such a divisive issue" between Mexico and the U.S., "and also in our domestic politics here in the United States," Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said in a column for the archdiocesan newspaper online. The archbishop concelebrated the Mass with the pope Feb. 17 in Juarez, Mexico, on the U.S. border.

"It is especially sad to see divisions among U.S. Catholics" over immigration, Archbishop Gomez wrote. For, "the vast majority of us are sons and daughters of immigrants." He said that "for the pope and for all of us who are pastors in the church, immigration is not a political or economic issue. Immigration is about people -- and more and more it's about children and families."

During his Feb. 12-18 visit to Mexico, Pope Francis tried "to bring a word of hope and mercy to some of the poorest and most oppressed people in this hemisphere," said the archbishop. The pope, he added, "seemed deeply moved by the human tragedy of millions of people suffering from the corruption of leaders, criminal gangs, human trafficking, violence and poverty and economic injustice."

Archbishop Gomez acknowledged that "it is the duty of a sovereign nation to have secure borders." Actually, he said, "no one disputes that. But the further challenge we face in the U.S. is how to respond to the 11 million people who are living within our borders without documents."

These people right now "seem to be human pawns in the make-up of what looks like a permanent 'underclass,'" he wrote. "Most of them," he added, "have been here for a long time, and they are working hard, contributing to our society and our economy, but they have no rights, and they live in constant fear of being arrested and deported."

Archbishop Gomez said that "as Christians we need to help these people somehow -- no matter where they come from, no matter how they got here. They are mothers, fathers, children, grandparents. They are all our brothers and sisters."

5. Prison Visit in Juarez

Pope Francis visited a prison Feb. 17 in Juarez, Mexico. "Celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy with you means learning not to be prisoners of the past, of yesterday. It means learning to open the door to the future, to tomorrow; it means believing that things can change," he said to the prisoners.

"I wanted to celebrate the Jubilee of Mercy with you," the pope said, "so that it may be clear that it does not exclude the possibility of writing a new story, a new story and then moving forward."

The prison he visited was plagued previously by riots and controlled by drug cartels in a city once considered the murder capital of the world, Catholic News Service reported. Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said the pope's remarks were broadcast to 389 other prisons.

Pope Francis focused in his presentation on the steps necessary to rehabilitate prisoners and reintegrate them into society.

"Celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy with you is recalling the pressing journey that we must undertake in order to break the cycle of violence and crime," he stated. He added, "We have already lost many decades thinking and believing that everything would be resolved by isolating, separating, incarcerating and ridding ourselves of problems, believing that those policies really do solve problems."

However, the pope emphasized, "we have forgotten to focus on what should truly be our concern: people's lives; their lives, those of their families and those who have suffered because of this cycle of violence."

He called prisons "an indication of the kind of society we live in. In many cases they are a sign of the silence and omissions which have led to a throwaway culture, a symptom of a culture that has stopped supporting life, of a society that has little by little abandoned its children."

The church's focus on mercy "reminds us that reintegration does not begin here within these walls; rather it begins before, it begins 'outside,' in the streets of the city," Pope Francis remarked. "Reintegration or rehabilitation begins by creating a system which we could call social health."

Efforts are needed, he said, to create a "system of social health" that will endeavor "to promote a culture that acts and seeks to prevent those situations and pathways that end in damaging and impairing the social fabric."

Where does social reintegration begin? It beings with "making sure that all of our children go to school and that their families obtain dignified work, by creating public spaces for leisure and recreation and by fostering civic participation, health services and access to basic services, to name just a few possible measures."

6. Current Quotes to Ponder

A Living Wage: "A lot of people ask me, 'Does the church have a position on the minimum-wage issue?' I reply: 'No. But she does have position on a living wage: that every worker deserves one!' Yes, there's a lot of give-and-take about the wisdom of raising the minimum wage. . . . Both sides should be heard. But not only is it possible to find common ground, it is imperative that we do so because the status quo is not working. . . . At the recent synod on the family in Rome, the bishops were clear that less-than-adequate pay can threaten the peace and security of a family. . . . There's already way too much pressure on our families, with evident cultural erosion as a result. A lot of problems in the family and home seem beyond remedy. This one is not. That's why raising the minimum wage to a living wage is so important." (Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York in a Feb. 14 column for the New York Daily News.)

Mercy in Action: "Mercy is not an abstraction. It is an attitude of the mind and heart that is most fully expressed in action. When I forgive someone who has harmed me, I must show it in the way I treat him or her. When I let go of past hurts, I have to make amends. . . . Showing mercy isn't easy. Our egos get in the way. We much prefer revenge. . . . (But) vengeance leads only to hatred, violence and an unending, vicious cycle of evil consequences. Mercy is the opposite of vengeance. It is the only way to lasting peace. . . . One of the most powerful ways to make amends for past wrongs -- whether committed by us or against us -- is to pray for the persons who have wronged us or whom we have wronged. It is sometimes not possible to request the forgiveness of someone we hurt long ago (a parent who is now deceased, a former employer, an old friend or lover). But even if it is impossible to look another person in the eye and say, 'I forgive you' or 'I'm sorry,' we can always pray for them. If we ask God to extend to them the love and mercy that we are unable to express directly -- for whatever reasons -- we can be confident that our merciful Father will do so. And, in the process, God will forgive us also for whatever part we played in harming the relationships that we now seek to amend." (From a Feb. 26 column by Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis for the Criterion, newspaper of the archdiocese.)

7. Anti-Islamic Attitudes in the U.S.

An "ugly tide of anti-Islamic bigotry" can be witnessed in today's United States, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy said Feb. 17 in a speech to the first Catholic-Muslim dialogue on the national level, which was held at the University of San Diego. The national dialogue was established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Bishop McElroy stressed, a Catholic News Service report said, that "it is not bigotry to fear or to combat the violence and terror which some Muslims in the world have unleashed." He also considered it "a terrible wound to the Christian community" that Middle East Christians face "extinction" in a region that has been their home for so very long.

At the same time, it is "a great tragedy for the Muslim community" to witness the denial in Europe of a safe haven for Muslim refugees, the bishop said.

He encouraged Catholics to pursue personal relationships with Muslims and "to walk with the Muslim community" as it reflects upon issues of religious liberty and the relationship of church and state. Many Americans, he said, do not have a significant friendship with any Muslim person.

"Religious bigotry thrives in an environment of social isolation," said Bishop McElroy. He called "encounter" the best "antidote to prejudice and bigotry."

He urged U.S. Catholics to reject the "repeated falsehoods" that Islam inherently is violent, that Muslims want to replace the U.S. Constitution with the law of sharia or that immigrant Muslims threaten the "cultural identity of the American people." He suggested that claims like that call to mind the anti-Catholic bigotry that once was so forceful in the United States.