The Lord Calls us to Protect the Stranger

This past weekend, as people in America and throughout the world began to see the effects of the recent executive actions on immigration and refugee resettlement, Catholics heard a different message during the celebration of the Eucharist: “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who have observed His law; seek justice, seek humility. Perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.” (Zep. 2:3).

In the Gospel reading from Matthew, the words of Jesus’ teaching of the Beatitudes (Mt. 5:1-12) rang in our ears: “Blessed are the merciful,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

The stark, clear and urgent language of Scripture impels my brother bishops and I to call on the federal government to alter its executive actions, and instead craft a well-conceived and comprehensive approach to immigration and refugee resettlement reform that both protects our people and national security and treats newcomers and refugees with respect, mercy, love and kindness.

The reasons for our objections and our call for a better approach are easy to understand. Any ban that endangers the lives of people who have served alongside US forces in Iraq, for example, can only result in Iraqi men, women and children being killed solely because they chose to help the United States. As a result, US forces will be more at risk, because Iraqis who at one time would work with them will refuse to do so out of fear.

These executive actions tear families apart. Among the more moving moments during the past weekend were those television images of people, already approved by the government to live or travel here, being stopped and led away in airports, and family members learning that their loved ones – children, wives, husbands, siblings, friends  – were removed from airplanes and detained.

In addition, the actions have dashed the hopes of many thousands of people in refugee camps fleeing violence and oppression in places like Syria, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These people — the overwhelming number of them children – have passed extensive US Government scrutiny and have for several years been waiting in often-dangerous conditions for an available flight and settlement here.  All too often they, too, now remain separated from family members already here.

For them, one day’s delay, not to mention the 120 days now in place under the actions, is one day too much.

The steps the Government are instituting are a challenge to religious liberty and directly contradictory to one of the principles on which this country was founded. Such discrimination on our part will surely be replicated by other countries against American citizens. One reason the 20th Century was known as the American Century was our willingness to help oppressed people gain the benefits of freedom and friendship. How will history view the 21st Century?

Some of the mail and phone calls that the Archdiocese Chancery Office has received concerning my statement last week about the executive actions came from Catholics and others who told me to “stay out of politics.” I understand the need for this nation to ensure safe and secure borders, and a safe environment for the people of this country. That is one of the roles of government. But I also understand that the Church calls each of us to witness to the Gospel.

The Catholic Bishops of the United States have for years called for a comprehensive plan to address the national concerns about immigration reform, and we have engaged in open and active dialogue with successive administrations to help shape this humanitarian and moral issue.

I am encouraged by this administration’s stance on pro-life issues. All of us have the challenge of seeing respect for life as being, in the famous words of Cardinal Bernardin, a “seamless garment,” which is just that the garment of Christ was not torn apart at the foot of the cross. Neither is our moral reflection on life. The fact that the Vice President and other White House officials addressed the March for Life last week was encouraging.

We can never downplay the importance of the March for Life to call on the people of this country to truly protect the unborn. But I always pray that the March for Life also will set on fire the hearts of lawmakers, justices and government administrators to work for true protection of life — everything from access to healthcare, to educational and employment opportunities, to protecting other vulnerable adults and those at the margins of our society, to reforming our immigration and refugee programs to ensure that all are treated with dignity, respect and love.

Committing ourselves to welcoming and protecting immigrants and refugees transcends politics. Our Catholic faith teaches that we must assist the vulnerable and recognize the inherent human dignity of all – particularly those fleeing persecution.

In his recent address to the third World Meeting of Popular Movements in Rome, Pope Francis observed that fear “is fed and manipulated…Because fear – as well as being a good deal for the merchants of arms and death –  weakens and destabilizes us, destroys our psychological and spiritual defenses, numbs us to the suffering of others, and in the end it makes us cruel.”

The United States and the Church always have been enriched by immigrants who have come to find their future here, and to help shape our shared future with their blood, sweat and tears.

In another of the many messages of last Sunday’s celebration of the Eucharist, the source of our Life, the writer of Psalm 146 reminded us that blessed is the one who “secures justice for the oppressed.”