Bishop Hying

U.S. remains a nation of immigrants seeking same blessings and opportunities as ancestors

       As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on January 8, 2017


       Every January, around the time of the Epiphany, the Catholic Church in the United States embraces National Migration Week, focusing on the gifts, needs and challenges of migrants in our midst and around the world. As we honor the Magi, who traveled from distant countries and crossed ethnic borders to visit the Christ Child, we think of the millions of people in our country who have journeyed from distant lands, seeking home, employment, peace and welcome here. 

       Globally, we are experiencing the greatest wave of migration since the end of World War II.  Because of terrorism, war, poverty, religious persecution and other horrible forms of violence, millions of people are on the move, looking for a better life of freedom, security and opportunity.

       Obviously, immigration is a political hot potato in our country, figuring prominently in the recent presidential election and protracted Congressional debates. The presence of seemingly numerous illegal immigrants presents difficult questions. Some would say that any undocumented persons living here deserve deportation, no questions asked. Others, on the other extreme, call for completely open borders and unmitigated freedom of movement. Most organizations and individuals, including the United States Catholic Bishops Conference, fall somewhere in the middle of that continuum.

       Clearly, every country has a right and an obligation to secure its borders, regulating who can visit, reside or become a citizen. If everyone who wanted to live in the United States was allowed to, our institutions and communities would be overwhelmed. Obviously, an adept vigilance which blocks the entry of criminals and terrorists into our country serves the common good, as does a measured and balanced immigration policy. Not everyone can live here.

       On the other hand, we need to remember that the United States is a nation of immigrants; most of our ancestors came to this country from other places in generations past, seeking the same opportunities and blessings that the latest arrivals to our shores desire. Our culture has been a paradox of both welcome and prejudice. 

       Many Africans were violently forced to come here as slaves, suffering generations of dehumanizing hatred. Racism has long shadows and deep consequences. The Irish, Italians, Poles and just about every other ethnic group battled discrimination and prejudice, struggling for a place in our diverse and complex society. Over the years, Catholics, Jews and Muslims have suffered bigotry and rejection.

       We are the inheritors and beneficiaries of this cultural and religious richness, even with all of its checkered history. Our national ethos promises that people of all races, languages, creeds and countries are welcome in the United States to seek a free, prosperous and dignified life. The Statue of Liberty symbolizes this promise of America, even when those opportunities came grudgingly from those who had already established themselves here. Our communal strength flows from the ideals of human rights, diversity of thought and belief, cultural variety and the values of hard work and enterprise.

       As we examine the current situation of immigrants, we as Catholics need to remember that the merciful work of welcoming the stranger and the homeless is at the center of our faith. Most of the people recently arrived here work very hard at jobs that no one else would even consider, contributing to the economy and the community. Many are Catholics whose practice of faith enriches our dioceses and parishes with a deep and beautiful spirituality. We are blessed by their presence, work, values and faith.

       The Church will certainly stand with families who could potentially risk the tragedy of suffering division; parents potentially being deported whose children are United States citizens and only have lived in this country. The Church stands with political and religious refugees whose forced return to their homelands could result in their persecution or death. The Church wants to help those seeking to escape a crushing poverty whose misery most of us can only imagine. 

       Do we need sensible and enforced immigration laws? Yes. Can anyone who wants to live here automatically do so? No. But we need to regularize the legal status of persons who have lived here for years, work hard as peaceful and loving contributors to the community and most probably have borne children. 

       Such an effort may seem arduous but would stand in the long American tradition of welcoming and accommodating progressive waves of immigrants who have come to these shores with not much more than faith in God, hope in their hearts and a desire for something better than they have ever known. 

       Such a principled stance reflects both Catholicism and America at their very best. 


       + Donald J. Hying

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