March 28, 2017
Steps toward Catholic-Muslim understanding --
Telling America's story in a new way --
Understanding immigrants accurately
1. Solidarity with immigrants.
2. Neglecting immigrants harms us all.
3. Retelling America's story.
4. Current quotes to ponder:
a) The truth about immigrants.
b) How the church serves immigrants.
5. Christian-Muslim understanding.
1. Bringing Solidarity With Immigrants to Life
"God's hope" is that the members of a diverse society will view "each other as valued sisters and brothers regardless of race, religion or national origin," the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Administrative Committee said in a March 22 pastoral reflection expressing solidarity with immigrants and refugees forced to flee violence, conflict and lives of fear in their homelands.
Titled "Living as a People of God in Unsettled Times," the committee's reflection is just one of many new statements by Catholic leaders on the church's concern for immigrants at this troubled moment in history. The well-being of immigrants is heavily weighted in the church's eyes with religious and pastoral implications, these statements make clear.
One way Catholics in their "own small way" might bring to life their "words of solidarity" with migrants and refugees is to meet with members of a parish "who are newcomers" and to hear each other's stories, according to the committee. It notes that "hundreds of Catholic parishes throughout the U.S. "have programs for immigrants and refugees" that both comfort them and "help them know their rights."
It also is "important to reach out in loving dialogue to those who may disagree with us," the pastoral reflection recommends. For, "the more we come to understand each other's concerns, the better we can serve one another."
Another way to bring words of solidarity to life is to "call, write or visit your elected representatives," asking that they "fix our broken immigration system in a way that safeguards both our security and our humanity through a generous opportunity for legal immigration."
It is essential to recognize that behind every immigration and refugee policy "is the story of a person in search of a better life," the pastoral reflection urges. The story may tell of "an immigrant or refugee family sacrificing so that their children might have a brighter future," and it may also tell of "a family seeking security from an increased threat of extremist violence."
It is vital that steps taken to safeguard the U.S. "not cause us to lose our humanity," the committee states. It says that while "intense debate is essential to healthy democracy," it also is true that "the rhetoric of fear does not serve us well." The committee asks, "When we look at one another do we see with the heart of Jesus?"
"As shepherds of a pilgrim church," the committee states, "we will not tire in saying to families who have the courage to set out from their despair onto the road of hope, 'We are with you.'"
2. On Owning the Harm Done to the Neglected
"As the church was there for my grandparents in the 1900s, the church is here for you," Chicago's Cardinal Blase Cupich said during a March 19 Telemundo program on immigration in America today. The Spanish-language TV network conducted the event in a town-hall style and transmitted it from Chicago. During the broadcast immigrants discussed their experiences in America.
"The principle that every human being, documented or undocumented, is made in the image of God and deserving of dignity and respect is at the core of our faith," the cardinal insisted, according to a report in America magazine, published by the Jesuits.
Chicago, he commented, is "a city that has welcomed and benefited from the work of immigrants from every corner of the globe." He called attention to St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, who "left her home in Italy to serve the Italian immigrants who found a less than warm welcome when they arrived here. She worked and died in Chicago."
The Telemundo broadcast represented one of several recent occasions when Cardinal Cupich turned attention to the plight of immigrants. A March 11 Mass celebrated for St. Patrick's Day at Old St. Patrick's Church in Chicago was another such occasion.
He asked in his homily that day, "What happens to the soul of a nation of immigrants and refugees that fails to respond in a way that is just" to the contemporary plight of immigrants and refugees -- to "the human tragedy of 60 million people" in today's world who "have fled their homes because of war, famine and poverty."
"It is important to own what happens to those we neglect, marginalize and dispose of, but also to own what happens to us in doing so," he remarked. He explained that "what we do in response to those in need -- to the stranger, the person who has no home or family, the person who has suffered great loss and who has no voice or power -- is not just about what happens to them now, but what happens to us now."
That, he continued, "is a timely message for us during this moment of national debate about establishing immigration and refugee policies that are just."
Cardinal Cupich recalled earlier times in America when immigrants regularly were "shunted aside by the harsh, vetting message, 'Irish Need Not Apply.'" As often is the case today, he said that they too "were objects of suspicion because of their different faith and ways, boxed in and boxed out by the sharp dividing lines of the dominant culture in power."
3. Telling America's Story in a New Way
The story of the U.S. that generally is told begins on the East Coast in "Washington, New York, Jamestown, Boston, Philadelphia," Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said in a March 8 address to the Napa Institute's D.C. symposium. "We remember the first Thanksgiving, the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War," he noted, and while this "story is not wrong," it is "not complete" either.
It is a story that conveys the "distorted impression that America was founded as a project only of Western Europeans," the archbishop commented. Because the story is incomplete, moreover, it conveys "the distorted impression that America was founded as a project only of Western Europeans."
This story prompts people to assume "that only immigrants from those countries really 'belong' and can claim to be called 'Americans.'" The implications of "this misreading of history" bear "obvious implications" for current debates in the nation, he said.
The archbishop expressed hope that America today is "at a new moment when we can begin to make true progress" in addressing "issues of immigration and our national identity." The Napa Institute, whose symposium he addressed, examines critical issues Catholic leaders face in "today's emerging secular society." The text of his speech appears in the March 23 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.
"We hear warnings all the time from politicians and the media that immigration from Mexico and Latin America is somehow changing our American 'identity' and 'character,'" the archbishop observed. He said, "I hear these arguments and I think, 'What American identity are we talking about?'"
A reality that "we should think about" is that "the first nonindigenous language spoken in this country was not English. It was Spanish," Archbishop Gomez said.
"The truth is," he told his audience, "that long before Plymouth Rock, long before George Washington and the 13 colonies, long before this country even had a name there were missionaries and explorers here from Spain and Mexico, and they were settling the territories of what are now Florida, Texas, California and New Mexico."
Moreover, "the first Asians, from the Philippines, started arriving in California about 50 years before the Pilgrims got to Plymouth Rock," he said.
This is not to deny "that America's laws, institutions and cultural traditions were defined and shaped by Anglo-Saxon and Protestant European ancestors," he added. However, "we can no longer afford to tell a story of America that excludes the rich inheritance of Latinos and Asians." Such a story, he said, "cannot unite us and inspire us in an American that is changing."
The story of America that needs to be told is the story both of "St. Junipero Serra and Thomas Jefferson." Archbishop Gomez said, "We need to tell a new story to inspire a new generation to carry on the providential mission of America."
4. Current Quotes to Ponder
The Truth About Immigrants: "In the archdiocese [of Boston], we have already begun to hold sessions to answer people's questions on immigration. Wherever this has taken place attendance has been very good, and our intention is to continue to provide this service to our people. I think it's unfortunate that some people may have the impression that immigrants are a criminal element in our society. Certainly, I think everyone can agree that criminals should be deported. However, the vast majority of immigrants who are here -- whether documented or undocumented -- have come for the opportunity to make a life for themselves and for the children. I think this is a very important fact that people need to keep before their minds. We are a nation of immigrants, and this has always been one of our strengths of our country. So, hopefully, the new administration and Congress will be able to work swiftly to devise a new and better plan to replace our broken immigration system." (From the March 3 blog by Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley on the archdiocese's website.)
How the Church Serves Immigrants: "I want to speak about the ongoing commitment of our local church to offering pastoral, legal and social service aid to immigrants and refugees in the Greater Philadelphia community. Our Office for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees coordinates a network of priest chaplains, religious sisters and lay leaders who provide for the spiritual and material needs of persons from places like Indonesia, Haiti, West Africa, Vietnam and Brazil. Our ministry to Hispanic Catholics likewise provides support for Catholic immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America. . . . We do and always will welcome all Catholics to worship and fellowship with us, regardless of their legal status. They're our family in Jesus Christ, first and foremost, and being undocumented diminishes neither their dignity nor personhood. . . . Catholics originally came to this country as poor, often non-English-speaking immigrants seeking a better future. Philadelphia became the adopted home of a Bohemian immigrant priest who became our city's bishop and later saint, John Neumann. As immigrants, Catholics were the target of a bigoted nativist movement whose adherents torched Catholic churches in urban areas all along the East Coast. . . . As a church that herself bore the cross of hatred toward immigrants, our Catholic past is a compelling reason to welcome the immigrants and refugees among us today. These persons and families need our help. They are not strangers but friends. And how we treat them will prove or disprove whether we take our Christian discipleship seriously." (From a March 21 column for CatholicPhilly.com by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.)
5. Building Christian-Muslim Understanding
"It is ignorance which leads to problems between" Islam and Christianity in the United States today, "but it is not merely or even primarily theological ignorance. It is the ignorance of not knowing one another as brother and sister precisely in our religious identities," San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy said when he addressed the national Catholic-Muslim dialogue group March 8 in Chicago.
"As followers of Jesus Christ, we weep for the manner in which our Muslim brothers and sisters are being treated within our own country," Bishop McElroy told the dialogue group. He called it "unconscionable" that in "the United States of the 21st century one of the great world religions is caricatured, misrepresented and despised so widely."
What is "even more appalling," he added, is "that Muslims have now become the object of government actions carefully and deliberately designed to target a specific religious community."
Bishop McElroy recalled that Catholics themselves "have been the victims of 'extreme vetting' in a prior age." That vetting was known by the phrase, "Irish need not apply."
The nation today "does face a threat from extremists who have distorted the tradition of Islam and bring violence against innocent victims," said the bishop. "We must be vigilant," he insisted, "in identifying and combating that threat."
However, "in linking the Muslim community to that threat in a discriminatory manner we undermine our national security and dishonor our national heritage," he said. He urged the Catholic community "in the context of this dialogue [to] condemn unequivocally the anti-Muslim prejudice which is present in our midst and, more sadly, present within our own Catholic community."
Spelling out the forms of ignorance of each other that disturbs him in Christian-Muslim relations, Bishop McElroy mentioned:
1. "The ignorance of not having worked together as people of faith to confront secularism."
2. The ignorance "of not having joined with one another to pass on religious faith to our children in a youth culture so hostile to faith."
3. The ignorance of "not working together to establish greater spheres for religious liberty within our nation so that we can live in fidelity to our traditions of faith and prayer and morality."
4. And, the ignorance of "not collaborating to bring the sacred understanding of sin and redemption into the heart of our society's understanding of the human condition and human development."
The theological dialogue undertaken by the national Catholic-Muslim dialogue group "must reflect an overriding sense of friendship among the participants," Bishop McElroy stressed. He said that the dialogue "not only cannot be antagonistic, it cannot proceed from a posture of abstraction."
"Authentic theological dialogue," he said, "must be suffused with the understanding that the participants stand together in the marvelous human endeavor of discerning the transcendent and the core questions of our humanity which revolve around that transcendence."
Of course, the dialogue "must constantly reflect honesty in delineating our religious traditions and the differences which exist between Catholic Christianity and Islam," he stated. In addition, participants in the dialogue should "keep before them a sense of awe and marvel at the religious insights that are contained in the faith tradition which they are encountering."
What's more, he insisted, it will not be sufficient in dialogue involving Christians and Muslims "to clarify our commonalities and differences on a deep theological level . . . if we do not take steps to broadly convey this deepened level of friendship and truth to Muslims and Catholics within our nation," the bishop said. (His speech appears in the March 23 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)