A U.S. bishop on the border of Mexico hopes his new pastoral letter on migration will turn the hearts of Catholics to encounter their migrant brothers and sisters in a concrete way.
“It is first and foremost a reflection on the signs of the times by the light of faith,” Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso told CNA of his new pastoral letter on migration.
The letter is not meant to be “simply abstract,” he said, but “has to come down to the daily life and daily realities.”
Bishop Seitz’s letter on migration, “Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away,” was released on Tuesday.
He explained to CNA that the letter was prompted by reflection on the current situation for migrants in the U.S. At present in the country, there is a “great deal of fear in the midst of our migrant community,” he said.
“We had all hoped that maybe there would be a different tone when a new president came into office, and we really didn’t see much of a different tone” on immigration, he said.
It was by reflecting on this problem that his idea of a pastoral letter was born. The bishop hopes to teach Catholics and prod them to think about what Jesus said of the poor and the migrant.
“By sharing these reflections with people of faith, just by inviting them to step out of their preconceptions and the tendency that we have in this country to deal only with the level of politics,” the bishop hopes to encourage readers to “reflect from a standpoint of faith on what this might mean.”
“What does Jesus have to say about the poor, about the marginalized, about what they can actually teach us and how they are the really important ones in the Kingdom of God?” he reflected.
Bishop Seitz began his letter by stating some of the great challenges facing migrant communities in the U.S., and how the Church should respond to them.
“Since Jesus announced Good News to the poor, our Church has been called to stand with the suffering,” he wrote, saying that “migrants are living through a dark night of fear and uncertainty.”
“Recently we have witnessed indefensible, hateful words towards our neighbors in Mexico, the demonization of migrants, even of those children known as Dreamers, and destructive language about our border,” he said.
He also pointed to other problems – the breaking up of families by deportations, an increase in deportations of those without criminal records, and the detention of asylum seekers.
The journey north to the U.S. through Mexico is a dangerous one, Bishop Seitz said, with harsh desert conditions, drug trafficking, and smugglers all posing a danger to migrants. Yet once they reach the border, “increased militarization and more walls will only make this journey even more dangerous.”
“As God’s people here on the border, we are called to transform this desert, making refreshing pools of the burning sands of injustice and quenching the thirst of the oppressed,” he wrote.
The Diocese of El Paso has a long and storied Catholic history, he said, outdating the British colonies. Spanish migrants in the area held a Mass of Thanksgiving there in 1598, along with a feast with the local Manso indigenous tribe.
“Life in the midst of an immigrant community is really much more pronounced,” Bishop Seitz told CNA, and has a “richness” to it “that I really couldn’t say I anticipated.”
The Catholic culture continues today, he wrote in the letter. “With our brothers and sisters across the bridge, we speak the same language. We wake up each morning to the same beautiful mountains, we dance to the rhythm of mariachis, and we share burritos and champurrado. With San Juan Diego, we stand together under the mantle of Our Lady of Guadalupe.”
And Catholic ideals of hospitality and “encuentro,” or encounter, are practiced today in the services provided by the Diocese of El Paso to migrants coming to the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The Pope talks about accompanying the migrant,” the bishop told CNA, and he “talks about recognizing their face” and asks that people “see them as a fellow human being, and even more than that, as a brother and sister.”
“It’s just amazing, when that is allowed to happen, how the perspectives and the attitudes of people change,” he said. This theme of encounter is the focus of a significant part of the bishop’s letter.
Yet Catholics also must work to meet the needs of migrants in a concrete manner at the parish level, he said. This includes denouncing the injustices of today like “family separation,” “for-profit immigrant detention,” and “the disparagement of our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
And Catholics must also “address the plague of substance abuse afflicting our people” which is connected to “the drug trafficking destabilizing Mexico and Central America, driving migration to our border.”
Bishop Seitz emphasized the role of Catholic education in improving the lives of immigrants in the U.S., and promised to create a fund for tuition assistance at diocesan schools for children from migrant families.
He also recognized members of law enforcement for their “dedication and bravery in serving our community and protecting our country.” He exhorted them to uphold human dignity in their line of work and to uphold “the noble ideals in the Constitution of equal treatment under the law and due process.”
However, the bishop instructed parishes and schools to respectfully decline immigration officers access to churches in cases where there is no “imminent danger,” unless they have a warrant signed by a judge.
By Matt Hadro