May 12, 2006


We are all immigrants, the pilgrim people of God

People who travel from one place to another in search of a new earthly home and a better life are called immigrants. People who wander from place to place in search of their spiritual homeland, and a better way of living, are called pilgrims.

Every baptized Christian is a pilgrim on a journey to the better world that is to come. Every one of us is an immigrant in search of our final resting place, our heavenly home.

The debate that is raging today over immigration reform would benefit from this fundamental spiritual perspective: None of us “owns” the land we live in or the turf we protect so jealously. We are stewards, not owners, of this land and this nation.

It is true we are a nation of laws. These must be respected. And it’s true that we have to have borders (physical and cultural boundaries) that safeguard our identity and protect us from those who would do us harm. But we are stewards of this great land, not owners in any absolute sense.

The God who gave us this place asks us to do two things as his stewards (caretakers, custodians or guardians). He asks us to care for this land and its people. He asks us to share our abundant blessings with others.

Immigration reform should not be about ethnicity, race, economic or social status. It should be about the stewardship of our nation—taking care of and sharing the incredible gifts that we have all received as temporary residents of this earthly homeland. Immigration reform should not be about politics or privilege. It should be about helping one another to find our true dignity and our ultimate destiny as fellow pilgrims journeying toward God.

Pope John Paul II addressed the opportunities and challenges of immigration in his apostolic letter, The Church in America:

“The Church in America must be a vigilant advocate, defending against any unjust restriction the natural right of individual persons to move freely within their own nation and from one nation to another. Attention must be called to the rights of migrants and their families and to respect for their human dignity, even in cases of non-legal immigration.

“Migrants should be met with a hospitable and welcoming attitude which can encourage them to become part of the Church’s life, always with due regard for their freedom and their specific cultural identity” (cf. Ecclesia in America, #65, The Question of Immigrants).

We must be vigilant in the defense of human life, and in the stewardship of our nation’s freedom and its heritage. We must govern by the rule of law. We must secure our borders and protect our citizens. But all of this must be done with the proper perspective. This land does not belong to us. It is God’s country—given to us not to hoard or dominate or destroy, but to cherish, cultivate, develop and share.

As a pilgrim people, we know what it means to be homeless, to be on the way to a better life and a new world. As disciples, we know that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life. We are called to follow him—the one who had nowhere to lay his head, the one who wandered from place to place until the Father called him home.

We are all immigrants, the pilgrim people of God. Let us fight for the kind of immigration reform that ensures human dignity and the right to work. Let us urge our government leaders to secure our borders, and protect us from those who would destroy our freedom and our security.

But let us never forget that we are stewards, not owners, of this land and all its abundant blessings. We are all immigrants, sojourners in search of our true spiritual homeland, regardless of who we are, where we were born or what our economic, social or legal status may be.

As fellow travelers with Christ, let us pray in the words of Pope John Paul II:

Lord, grant that the Church in America may flourish and grow richer in the fruits of holiness.
Give us strength to proclaim your Word with courage so that the world may know new hope.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America, pray for us!

— Dan Conway

(Daniel Conway is a member of the editorial committee of the board of directors of Criterion Press Inc.)


Local site Links: