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US bishops stress compassion, clarity in immigration panel

In their discussion Wednesday on spiritual, pastoral and policy support for immigrants, the U.S. bishops highlighted the need for compassion, while also clearing up misconceptions about their views.

“There was a desire to express solidarity with and pastoral concern for those at risk, but also a desire to avoid encouraging exaggerated fears,” said Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, who has worked for several months to head the bishops’ working group on immigration.

Archbishop Gomez presented on the efforts of his working group at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ general meeting this week in Indianapolis.

Kicking off the discussion was a talk by Fr. Daniel G. Groody, C.S.C., Ph.D., of the University of Notre Dame.

In introducing Fr. Groody for the first segment of the panel, conference president Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo indicated that the talk would focus on the “spiritual rather than political perspective.” The event program referred to the talk as discussing the “Spirituality of Immigration.”

Fr. Groody began by speaking about the Mass Pope Francis celebrated at Lampedusa in July 2013, saying that he “would like to reflect a little bit on migration and the Eucharist,” and “to see how we can foster a Eucharistic imagination in our people.” He linked the Mass at Lampedusa, which was celebrated using an altar, lectern, and chalice crafted from the boats of refugees, to the border Mass at the United States-Mexico border.

From discussing this pair of Masses, he moved into his reflection on moving “from otherness to communion.”

Discussing the “Age of Migration,” he described the exploding statistics of displaced people, noting that the twenty-first century has seen more refugees than even World War II, and that migrants (even those within their own country) and refugees today comprise one-seventh of the global population.

“The first thing I want to say is that migration is an incredibly, incredibly complex issue,” Fr. Groody said, and “those who don’t understand its complexity either aren’t listening or they don’t understand.”

Moving into what he described as a “Liturgy of Words,” Fr. Groody outlined various groups who interact with immigrants in the United States. These include “vigilantes” living and operating at the border, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), political leaders, corporations, Church leaders, and human rights activists. He then detailed how these groups interact in legal, economic, and humanitarian capacities.

Turning to the legal aspect of the discussion, he considered Thomas Aquinas’ four kinds of law: natural, civil, divine, and eternal. “The goal for us for a just society is to have some sort of connection and participation between these laws.”

From this “Liturgy of Words,” Fr. Groody reflected further on the Eucharist at Lampedusa, telling the story of the carpenter who created the liturgical instruments out of the wood of refugee’s boats.

During a question-and-answer session with the bishops, Fr. Groody mentioned the “risk of deporting our souls” as rumors about the increase in deportations fly. He also summarized his “central theological point,” namely that “God in Jesus Christ so loved the world that he migrated into the far and distant territory of our sinful and broken existence, and there he laid down his life on a cross so that we could migrate back to our homeland… it is no longer the ‘other’ who is the migrant, but it’s all of us.”

After Fr. Groody spoke, the panel moved into its second session, a summary of the tasks completed by the bishop’s working group on immigration issues, commenced at the November 2016 General Assembly. Wednesday’s session marked the final presentation of the group, whose work will now be integrated into the conference’s existing committees on immigration.

The presentation was conducted by Archbishop Gomez along with Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the bishops’ migration committee. After the presentation, which lasted about half an hour, the panel transitioned to a discussion session.

Archbishop Gomez gave a summary of the group’s work, noting that they had been formed in anticipation of the incoming presidential administration’s likely moves on the issue. As such, much of their work consisted of making public statements on behalf of the USCCB against measures such as the executive orders issued in the first days of the nascent administration.

He also summarized the resources the group had produced for dioceses, namely materials for prayer, pastoral accompaniment, action alerts, legal memoranda, and policy reports.

Bishop Vásquez then addressed where the conference intends to move from the group’s work. He expressed the desire to continue the collaboration strengthened over the course of their work, and highlighted the continuing good work of Justice for Migrants, an advocacy group of the USCCB.

He also spoke of the need to counter the false images presented of the bishop’s work on the topic, such as the misconception that they are advocating for “open borders,” and highlighted the five principles presented in their 2003 joint document with the bishops of Mexico, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.”

By Joe Slama













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