January 13, 2017


Encountering our migrants

The U.S. Catholic bishops have designated this week, Jan. 8-14, as National Migration Week. It has celebrated this week for nearly 50 years to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, including immigrants, refugees, children, and victims and survivors of human trafficking.

The theme for this year’s observance is “Creating a Culture of Encounter.” It’s a response to Pope Francis’ emphasis on encountering others because, as the pope said, “faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others.”

The U.S. bishops’ website says, “With respect to migrants, too often in our contemporary culture we fail to encounter them as persons, and instead look at them as others. We do not take the time to engage migrants in a meaningful way, but remain aloof to their presence and suspicious of their intentions. During this National Migration Week, let us all take the opportunity to engage migrants as children of God who are worthy of our attention and support.”

It seems to us that our attitude toward migrants should be identical with our attitude toward anyone else. It’s embodied in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12; Lk 6:31)

In fact, that’s precisely what Pope Francis told the members of the U.S. Congress during his address in the Capitol in Washington on Sept. 24, 2015. He urged legislators to follow the Golden Rule to protect life at all stages, aid immigrants and the poor, nurture the good of the biological family, and care for creation.

More recently, during the consistory at which Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin was made a cardinal, the pope warned against casting someone as “an enemy because they come from a distant country, or have different customs. An enemy because of the color of their skin, their language, or social class.”

As both Catholics and Americans, we say that we believe that all people are created equal and deserve equal rights. Furthermore, our Catholic ancestors from a wide variety of countries have historically benefited from the American values that prompted the creation of the Statue of Liberty and the poem by Emma Lazarus that include the words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Yet now, with a new president about to take office on Jan. 20, kindness toward migrants no longer appears to be a priority in this country. We say “appears” because we’re convinced that most Americans still want to welcome migrants and that they voted for Donald Trump despite his campaign against migrants rather than because of it.

We hope, in particular, that President Trump won’t rescind President Obama’s executive order, issued in 2012, that has kept an estimated 740,000 young people from being deported. These are young men and women who were brought to the United States as children, and have grown up here like any other American children. If deported, they would be going to countries and cultures they have never known. Many of them can make great contributions to our country.

It’s encouraging that Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has said that he will introduce legislation protecting these Dreamers, as they’re called, if such legislation is necessary. And a statement signed by the presidents of more than 70 colleges and universities, released by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, supports the Dreamers.

Trump says that he still wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, giving the impression that millions of Mexicans are coming into the country illegally. He must know that that is no longer true, and hasn’t been true since 2008, according to a November 2015 Pew Research Center analysis of government data. Since then, more Mexicans have left the United States than have entered.

Those who have entered, though, did so for the same reasons that our ancestors moved to the United States, most of them before there were limits on the number of migrants permitted to enter. Let’s treat them as we would like to be treated.

However, the theme for this special week concerns encountering migrants. We can do that in our parishes where numerous migrants worship, some more than others. In Indianapolis, for example, St. Monica Parish has an especially large number of Hispanics.

—John F. Fink

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