October 13, 2006


Catholicism is pro-immigration

"Unity in diversity is the vision that we bishops, as pastors of the Church in the United States, offer to our people as they welcome new immigrants and refugees." (“Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity,” a statement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, November 2000)

A recent article in USA Today (Aug. 21 issue) quoted two prominent U.S. Congressmen as saying that the Catholic Church’s support for the rights of immigrants amounts to the “politically correct” and “fashionable” response of “left-leaning religious activists.”

The same article reported that a popular media pundit has “accused the Church of avidly looking south of the border just to add a few folks to its pews.” Nativism—an anti-Catholic movement that was especially strong in 19th-century U.S. history—is alive and well in America today!

The pro-immigrant stance of the Catholic Church in the United States has nothing to do with left-leaning politics or the desire to recruit new members.

It is fundamental to the mission and identity of the Church itself, and it speaks in a particular way to the unique role of Catholicism in American history and culture.

We are an immigrant Church, and all of our beliefs, traditions and values emphasize the importance of reaching out to strangers and welcoming them as Christ.

Respect for those who are migrants, refugees or homeless people is deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian experience. Exclusion and separatism are not our values. In fact, these Nativist sentiments or principles are the very opposite of what it means to be open, universal and truly Catholic.

There is no question that our country urgently needs immigration reform. The American bishops have argued passionately for a more just and humane approach to the treatment of migrants.

There is no question that we need secure borders—to protect our citizens and to ensure the health and safety of those who wish to migrate to the United States. Our Church stands for safety and security, but not at the expense of human rights and dignity. And certainly not from a heavy-handed, enforcement-only perspective!

Catholic Christians recognize the biblical roots of migration and homelessness. In 1952, Pope Pius XII, who was not known for his left-leaning religious activism or political correctness, declared the Holy Family to be the archetype of every refugee family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph are “the models and protectors of every migrant, alien and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave his native land, his beloved parents and relatives, his close friends, and to seek a foreign soil.”

Does this description sound familiar? It should. It describes the experience of nearly all our American Catholic families at one time in their not-too-distant histories. And it describes the plight of families all over the world who have been displaced, unsettled and forced into exile “by fear of persecution or by want.”

As Catholic Christians, we recognize every stranger as a paroikos (a Greek term that means “wayfarer” or “sojourner,” but which is closely related to our term “parishioner”). Every stranger is a fellow-traveler with us on the journey to heaven. Every parish is a community of sojourners who strengthen and support one another on the way to God.

Is it fashionable or politically correct to be pro-immigrant? Let’s hope so. Let’s hope that our political leaders will abandon the foolish and self-defeating position that immigrants are the enemy and that building fences and walls will automatically mean better security.

And let’s pray for the day when every immigrant (whatever his or her legal status) is recognized and welcomed as Christ, a fellow-traveler with us on the road to our heavenly home.

— Dan Conway

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