Holy Cross priest presents reflection on immigration issues for bishops

By Natalie Hoefer

INDIANAPOLIS
(CNS) — Holy Cross Father Daniel Groody stood before the U.S. bishops June 14 and
held up a chalice. It was not special in appearance, but rather in the story it
told.

The
chalice was handcrafted primarily with wood from a refugee boat that landed
upon the beaches of Lampedusa, the Mediterranean island from which Pope Francis
cast a wreath into the waters to remember the thousands of refugees who lost
their lives there, attempting to flee persecution.

The
base of the chalice was formed from mesquite, a common wood along the
U.S.-Mexico border crossed by immigrants seeking better lives in America.

Together,
he said, the materials of the chalice speak to the plight of immigrants, a
topic addressed during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ spring assembly
in Indianapolis.

“Migration
is an incredibly, incredibly complex issue, and those who don’t realize its
complexity either aren’t listening, or they don’t understand,” said Father
Groody, an associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame and director
of immigration initiatives at the university’s Institute for Latino Studies.

“And
second, migration is an incredibly, incredibly simple issue, and those who
don’t realize its simplicity either aren’t listening, or they don’t understand,”
he said.

Along
those lines of duality, Father Groody noted the need to “move people beyond
binary language: legal or illegal, citizen or alien, native or foreigner, and
to try to go to the deeper river of these issues.”

He
spoke of the tensions in the topic of immigration, the tension between
sovereign rights and human rights, between civil law and natural law, and between
national security and human security.

Father
Groody’s reflection preceded a review by the working group on migrants and
refugees created out of the bishops’ general assembly last November.

The
group was to complete its work by this spring meeting, but “recognizing
the continued urgency” so many migration and refugee issues present, Cardinal
Daniel N. Dinardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, announced June 15 he was extending the
group.

Archbishop
Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president and the group’s chairman,
and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB Committee on
Migration, addressed the working group’s origins, activities and next steps on
issues.

“Some
of the desires that were expressed (at the November meeting regarding the working
group) were in tension with each other and required a certain balance,” said
Archbishop Gomez.

For
example, he said, “There was a desire for pastoral concern for those at risk,
but there was also a desire to avoid encouraging accelerated fears. These
tensions were not a problem, but were instead constructive, reminding us always
of the full range of consideration at stake.”

Archbishop
Gomez noted that part of the reason the group was created last November was the
bishops’ “desire for a strong response to the anticipated policies of the
incoming administration regarding refugees and immigrants.”

That
motive proved prophetic. Some of the group’s first actions involved issuing
official statements opposing three executive orders involving immigration and
immigrants the Trump administration issued in its first week. The travel ban executive
order and a revision of it is being held up in the courts; the order temporarily
bans entry into the U.S. by people from six Muslim-majority countries.

“These
statements, combined with many local statements by bishops across the country
along the same lines, helped to make a positive impact on the public
conversation regarding the orders,” said Archbishop Gomez.

On
the legislative front, Bishop Vasquez and Dominican Sister Donna Markham,
director of Catholic Charities USA, wrote a joint letter in support of the
BRIDGE Act, which stands for Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream and Grow Our
Economy. The bipartisan bill would provide temporary protection from
deportation for three years as well as work authorization for young people
eligible for former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood
Arrivals program, or DACA.

Archbishop
Gomez said that while the letter and statements were more high profile, “the
greatest fortune of the work was to provide each one of you with resources to
support your local episcopal ministry in this area (of helping migrants and
refugees).”

Such
resources include information to provide to families fearing separation from
deportation, action alerts, and information and analysis “to keep each of you
well informed in a fast-paced environment, where even basic information is so
often tainted by political polarization and partisanship,” the archbishop said.

Bishop
Vasquez also pointed to the ongoing collaborative effort of Catholic groups
through Justice for Immigrants — https://justiceforimmigrants.org. The website
of coalition, created in 2004 and coordinated by the USCCB, offers backgrounders,
webinars and action alerts that the working group developed and disseminated.

Such
collaborative efforts and information are meant “to convey a comprehensive
vision for immigration reform, to paint a fuller picture of what justice and
mercy mean with respect to migrants and refugees in our country today,” Archbishop
Gomez explained.

“We
must take the initiative to provide a more complete and positive account on our
views,” he added.

He
pointed to “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey to Hope,” a 2003 joint
pastoral letter by the bishops of the U.S. and Mexico, for laying out the
bishops’ principles on immigration. In in the bishops challenged their
governments to change immigration policies and promised to do more themselves
to educate Catholics and political leaders about the social justice issues
involved in migration and address migrants’ needs.

To
bring such perspective “into the public square (is) for the benefit of all, not
just for migrants and refugees, or for the faithful, or for the institutional church,
but for the common good,” he said.

During
the open discussion, a dozen bishops stepped forward to praise the group’s work,
make comments and suggestions, and even express caution.

“I
have a reservation on (a) symbolic level,” said Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San
Diego. “I think we have to keep signaling (that) we as a conference are on a
level of heightened alert because our people are on a level of heightened alert
because of the fears among them. (The fears) are not imaginary, and they have
been stoked by particular actions and words and legislative orders.”

The
concept of sanctuary arose twice. While one bishop desired more guidance on the
topic, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California, cautioned that sanctuary
“will not provide what the immigrant community needs long term, and that is to
be incorporated as fellow citizens, brothers and sisters of this one society.
Offering a more positive vision and to continue to hold for sensible,
reasonable immigration reform is just key.”

Bishop
Donald J. Kettler of St. Cloud, Minnesota, encouraged helping immigrants
through local ecumenical efforts.

Archbishop
Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee noted that officials in “the current
administration are economic pragmatists.” Since the loss of labor in small
businesses and farms would be disastrous if so many are deported, he said, that
angle on immigration should be pursued with such an economic-minded
administration. It would be “a wonderful way to move the issue forward,” he
said.

Auxiliary
Bishop Eusebio L. Elizondo of Seattle called the committee’s work prophetic.

“Not
all of us are on the same page supporting immigration. But at the same time we
have to be countercultural,” he said. “We all as Christians and
Catholics have to be — that’s our mission, especially for the vulnerable
people.”


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Hoefer
is a reporter for The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

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