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February 28, 2017

Guiding principles for receiving immigrants -- Border bishops speak out -- Can the economy really kill? -- Anti-Semitism in today's America

In this edition:
1. Actions in a time of fear.
2. Disruptors and rebuilders.
3. Does the economy kill?
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Anti-Semitic acts.
b) A populist tactic.
c) Immigration enforcement.
d) Gender identity in schools.
5. Border bishops speak out.
6. On receiving immigrants.

1. Actions for a Time of "Fear and Anxiety"

"We will not let corporate and political elites pit us against each other. We are in one fight to rebuild a society in which every person is seen as fully human, has a full voice in the decisions that shape their lives and is able to thrive and reach their human potential," said a Feb. 19 statement by participants in the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements, held in Modesto, Calif.

The statement asked the U.S. "Catholic bishops to write a covenant that spells out specific actions that dioceses and parishes should take to protect families in the areas of immigration, racism, jobs, housing and the environment."

At a time "of fear and anxiety," the statement urged "clergy and faith communities to speak and act boldly in solidarity with our people." It pointed to "raids and Trump administration executive orders" that, it insisted, "are scapegoating immigrants and ripping families apart."

Co-sponsors of the meeting included the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, the U.S. bishops' Catholic Campaign for Human Development and PICO, a national network of faith-based community organizations.

Three previous world meetings of popular movements concentrated on issues related to land, labor and housing. The Modesto meeting added racism and immigration to those concerns. Participants in the meeting included leaders of numerous grass-roots organizations.

The Modesto statement urged "every faith community, including every Catholic parish," to declare itself "a sanctuary for people facing deportation and those being targeted based on religion, race or political beliefs."

Serving as a sanctuary can mean "hosting families at risk of deportation, accompanying people to Immigration and Customs Enforcement check-ins, organizing to free people from detention, holding Defend Your Rights trainings and organizing rapid response teams," the statement explained.

It called upon cities, counties and states to "adopt policies that get Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers "out of our schools, courts and jails, stop handing over people to ICE and end practices that criminalize people of color through aggressive policing and overincarceration."

The Modesto meeting participants said that every day they encounter "the reality that Pope Francis describes when he says that our families and communities are being assaulted by a 'system that causes enormous suffering to the human family, simultaneously assaulting people's dignity and our common home in order to sustain the invisible tyranny of money that only guarantees the privileges of a few.'"

The statement said, "With the pope we recognize that we are at a 'historic turning point' and that resolution of 'this worsening crisis' depends on the participation and action of popular movements."

It is essential, the statement stressed, to put "our bodies, money and institutional power at risk to protect our families and communities, using tools that include boycotts, strikes and nonviolent civil disobedience."

A "lack of good jobs, affordable housing, and clean water and air is literally killing people. Racism is stripping black, Latino, Asian, Muslim, native people of their humanity," the statement insisted.

"We believe," participants in the Modesto meeting affirmed, "that every human is sacred, with equal claim to safe water, education, health care, housing and family-sustaining jobs. All people are protagonists of their future. We each have a right to be included in the decisions that shape our lives."

Documentary coverage of the Modesto meeting appears in the March 2 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.

2. Contemporary Disruptors and Rebuilders

"I tried to think, What is the act that summarizes how we must act in this moment? And I came up with two words," San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy said in remarks Feb. 18 to the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements, held in Modesto, Calif.

The November U.S. presidential election provided the first of those two words. "President Trump was the candidate of 'disruption,'" Bishop McElroy recalled. The president, the bishop added, referred to himself as "the disruptor" in "challenging the operations of our government and society that need reform."

And "now we must all become disruptors," said the bishop. "We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers from their families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need."

Moreover, "we must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men, women and children as forces of fear rather than as children of God. We must disrupt those who seek to rob our medical care, especially from the poor. We must disrupt those who would take even Food Stamps and nutrition assistance from the mouths of children."

However, Bishop McElroy said, "as people of faith . . . , as people of all faiths and no faith we cannot merely be disruptors, we also have to be rebuilders."

That means, he commented, that "we have to rebuild this nation so that we place at its heart the service to the dignity of the human person and assert what the American flag behind us asserts is our heritage: Every man, woman and child is equal in this nation and called to be equal."

It is essential to "rebuild a nation in solidarity, what Catholic teaching calls the sense that all of us are the children of the one God; there are no children of a lesser god in our midst. That all of us are called to be cohesive, and embrace one another, and see ourselves as graced by God."

The rebuilding that is called for will mean paying just wages and providing "decent housing, clothing and food for those who are poorest." Furthermore, the bishop said, "we need to rebuild our Earth, which is so much in danger by our own industries."

For Bishop McElroy "the fundamental political question of our age is whether our economic structures and systems in the United States will enjoy ever greater freedom or whether they will be located effectively within a juridical structure which seeks to safeguard the dignity of the human person and the common good of our nation."

He said that in this "battle the tradition of Catholic social teaching is unequivocally on the side of strong governmental and societal protections for the powerless, the worker, the homeless, the hungry, those without decent medical care, the unemployed."

After all, the rights "being denied in our society to large numbers . . . are intrinsic human rights in Catholic teaching: the right to medical care; to decent housing; to the protection of human life from conception to natural death; of the right to food; of the right to work."

3. Can the Economy Really Kill?

"I want to do an experiment with you," San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy told participants in the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. He said:

"I want you to sit back in your chair for a moment.

"And close your eyes,

"And I want you to think of someone you have known that our economy has killed."

His challenge came after he mentioned Pope Francis' 2013 apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel." In that document, Bishop McElroy said, "Francis unmasked inequality as the foundation for a process of exclusion that cuts immense segments of society off from meaningful participation in social, political and economic life."

In turn, the bishop continued, this "gives rise to a financial system that rules rather than serves humanity and a capitalism that literally kills those who have no utility as consumers."

But "when I quote the pope that 'this economy kills,' people very often say to me, 'Oh come on, that's just an exaggeration; it's a form of speech."

With all of that in mind, Bishop McElroy challenged his listeners to imagine someone whom the economy has killed - "a senior who can't afford medicine or rent; a mother or father who is dying, working two and three jobs, really dying because even then they can't provide for their kids; young people who can't find their way in the world in which there is no job for them, and they turn to drugs, or gangs or suicide."

The bishop formulated his challenge in the following way: "Think of one person you know that this economy has killed. Now mourn them. And now call out their name; let all the world know that this economy kills."

4. Current Quotes to Ponder

Archbishop Deplores Wave of Anti-Semitic Acts: "Violence and hate against anyone, simply because of who they are, is inexcusable. For Catholics, anti-Semitism is more than a human rights concern. It's viewed as a form of sacrilege and blasphemy against God's chosen people. In recent weeks our country has seen a new wave of anti-Semitism on the rise. It's wrong, and it should deeply concern not only Jews and Catholics, but all people. As a community we must speak out to condemn inflammatory messages and actions that serve only to divide, stigmatize and incite prejudice. We must continually and loudly reject attempts to alienate and persecute the members of any religious tradition. Rather, as members of diverse faith and ethnic communities throughout the region, we must stand up for one another and improve the quality of life for everyone by building bridges of trust and understanding." (From a Feb. 27 statement by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput after the discovery a day earlier that vandals had toppled some 100 gravestones in a Jewish cemetery in that city.)

A Populist Tactic and Its Antidote: "It's not hard to get people to look around for someone to blame for the struggles they face. It is a phenomenon we see unfolding across many parts of the world today. Those in power, or those who seek power, begin to demonize excluded groups -- people who look, sound or believe differently than the dominant group. This act of misdirection -- channeling the anger of anxious people toward 'the other' rather than toward the architects of the economy of exclusion -- is a classic tactic of a populist leader. . . . We are urged to place our anger and frustration and fear onto the backs of the scapegoats of our day -- immigrants, Muslims, young people of color -- and to build walls, border walls and prison walls that will keep 'them' out of 'our' communities. . . . The way that we overcome fear, alienation and indifference is through the powerful actions of encounter and dialogue. Through the intentional choice to engage with one another, sharing our experiences and listening for common ground, we discover and activate our own capacity for compassion, the ability to 'feel with' another person the core emotions that make us human and bind us together." (From remarks Feb. 16 by Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, N.J., to the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif.)

U.S. Immigration Enforcement: "We recognize the importance of ensuring public safety, and would welcome reasonable and necessary steps to do that. However, the two [immigration-enforcement] memoranda issued by [U.S. Department of Homeland Security] Secretary [John] Kelly Feb. 20 contain a number of provisions that, if implemented as written, will harm public safety rather than enhance it. Moreover, taken in their entirety, the policies contained in these memoranda will needlessly separate families, upend peaceful communities, endanger the lives and safety of the most vulnerable among us, break down the trust that currently exists between many police departments and immigrant communities, and sow great fear in those communities. The DHS memoranda eliminate important protections for vulnerable populations, including unaccompanied children and asylum seekers. They greatly expand the militarization of the U.S./Mexico border. Taken together, these memoranda constitute the establishment of a large-scale enforcement system that targets virtually all undocumented migrants as 'priorities' for deportation, thus prioritizing no one. The memoranda further seek to promote local law enforcement of federal immigration laws without regard for the existing relationships of trust between local law-enforcement officials and immigrant communities. The engagement of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law can undermine public safety by making many who live in immigrant communities fearful of cooperating with local law enforcement in both reporting and investigating criminal matters." (From a Feb. 23 statement by Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on Migration.)

Gender Identity in Public Schools, Colleges and Universities: "We are grateful that the Trump Administration has withdrawn the guidance [issued in May 2016 by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education, and titled 'Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students'], which had indicated that public pre-K to 12 schools, as well as all colleges and universities, should treat 'a student's gender identity as the student's sex.' The Dear Colleague Letter sought to impose a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with sensitive issues involving individual students. Such issues are best handled with care and compassion at the local level, respecting the privacy and safety concerns of all students. . . . The Catholic Church consistently affirms the inherent dignity of each and every human person, and advocates for the well-being of all people, particularly the most vulnerable. Children, youth and parents in these difficult situations deserve compassion, sensitivity and respect. All of these can be expressed without infringing on legitimate concerns about privacy and security on the part of all young students and parents." (From a Feb. 24 statement by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, and Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Catholic Education.)

5. U.S.-Mexico Border Bishops Speak Out

"It is essential that governments adopt policies that respect the basic human rights of undocumented migrants," the bishops of U.S. and Mexican dioceses that lie along the border between their two nations said in a Feb. 14 joint statement.

"All persons have a right to live in conditions worthy of human life," the bishops stressed. When these conditions do not exist for them, people "have a right to migrate."

The cities along the border "consider themselves to be sister cities and friends, sharing a long history of the same land, faith, traditions, culture and solidarity," the bishops' statement observed. It affirmed that "the friendship between families and neighbors can result in friendship between peoples and nations."

The bishops pledged "to follow the good example of Pope Francis" by seeking "to construct bridges among peoples, bridges that help to break down the walls of exclusion and exploitation."

Regardless of a person's "migration condition," the bishops said, the person's "intrinsic human dignity" must be honored. They noted that migrants commonly are "subjected to punitive laws" and often are mistreated "by civil authorities in their countries of origin, the countries through which they travel and the countries of their destination."

Calling immigration "a global phenomenon" that arises "from economic and social conditions of poverty and insecurity," the bishops called attention to the reality that families often "feel that migration is the only way to survive." They said:

"The migrant has a right to be respected by international law and national law as he/she faces the violence, criminality and inhuman policies of governments, as well as the world's indifference."

6. Receiving Immigrants: Four Guiding Principles

Action on the church's part in support of "migrants, exiles and refugees" requires acting upon "principles and values of welcome and fraternity that constitute a common patrimony of humanity and wisdom," Pope Francis said Feb. 21 in a speech to the International Forum on Migration and Peace, which took place in Rome.

For Christians, "hospitality offered to the weary traveler is offered to Jesus Christ himself," he told the forum. The Feb. 21-22 forum was organized by the Scalabrini International Migration Network, known as SIMN, and was sponsored by the Vatican's new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Forum participants included Nobel Peace Prize laureates and representatives of the United Nations, international organizations, governments, church organizations and migration associations, SIMN's website said.

"Migration in its various forms is not a new phenomenon in humanity's history," Pope Francis noted. Rather, "it has left its mark on every age, encouraging encounter between peoples and the birth of new civilizations."

But today's "populist rhetoric" amplifies attitudes of rejection and indifference toward migrants, the pope commented. This, he said, "makes us see our neighbor not as a brother or sister to be accepted, but as unworthy of our attention, a rival or someone to be bent to our will."

He called attention particularly to people fleeing "conflicts and terrible persecutions" - people "often trapped within the grip of criminal organizations who have no scruples."

To act on behalf of migrants and refugees means welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating them into society, the pope explained. "A responsible and dignified welcome of our brothers and sisters begins by offering them decent and appropriate shelter," he said.

And the protection of migrants entails protecting "millions of migrant workers, male and female," and must extend to all "those who are victims of [human] trafficking," the pope added. He said that "defending their inalienable rights, ensuring their fundamental freedoms and respecting their dignity are duties from which no one can be exempted."

Turning to "the human promotion of migrants and their families," he stressed that this "begins with their communities of origin. That is where such promotion should be guaranteed, joined to the right of being able to emigrate, as well as the right not to be constrained to emigrate, namely the right to find in one's own homeland the conditions necessary for living a dignified life."

In this regard, he continued, "efforts must be encouraged that lead to the implementation of programs of international cooperation, free from partisan interests, and programs of transnational development that involve migrants as active protagonists."

Finally, the integration of immigrants into a new society means "neither assimilation nor incorporation," but "is a two-way process, rooted essentially in the joint recognition of the other's cultural richness," Pope Francis told the forum. It does not involve "the superimposing of one culture over another or mutual isolation," which carries the insidious "risk of creating ghettoes."

The people of a nation that receives immigrants must also "be supported by helping them to be sufficiently aware of and open to processes of integration, which though not always simple and immediate are always essential and, for the future, indispensable," said the pope. "This," he added, "requires specific programs" aimed at fostering "significant encounters with others."