Learn more about the plight of our migrant sisters, brothers - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

Learn more about the plight of our migrant sisters, brothers

As has been our annual practice for some time, we are focusing during the weekend Masses of Feb. 13-14 on an issue of public importance, recommended by the diocesan Public Policy Committee. This year, the committee has selected immigration reform, which as you know has generated much discussion in Congress, extensive news coverage and no shortage of controversy.

As you are aware, this issue has particular significance for many areas of our diocese because of the large number of migrant families present here. For example, the rich orchards and farmlands in the Finger Lakes area and along Lake Ontario have long drawn people who move from one seasonal agricultural job to another. Many of these workers and their families now come from Mexico and sometimes find themselves the targets of discrimination in a way reminiscent of that suffered by other predominantly Catholic immigrants, Irish, Italians and Eastern Europeans, among others.

It is often said that we hang two signs at the U.S. border with Mexico: "Keep Out" and "Help Wanted." The "keep out" sign comes in the form of a fence and a militarized border that has forced border crossers into the less patrolled desert; more than 5,000 have died since 1994. As people of faith, we must be mindful of this great tragedy. The "help wanted" sign keeps the flow of desperate people coming from a poor nation with a depressed economy to what is perceived as "the land of opportunity."

Migration holds a special significance for Catholics. The story of God’s relationship with humankind as told in the Hebrew Scriptures is the story of a migrant people. Abraham followed God’s call to travel with Sarah to a new home; Joseph’s family followed him to Egypt to avoid famine; and Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to a new life in the Land of Canaan. Even Jesus began his life as a stranger, born in a stable, fleeing with his family to Egypt to avoid persecution and spending the last three years of his life as a wanderer.

As Catholics we believe that all people are made in the image and likeness of God, deserving of our love and respect. While we might and often do disagree among ourselves about the best way to solve social and political problems, our faith calls us to a common vision that is best expressed in Matthew 25:34-36. "Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you made me welcome, naked and you clothed me, in prison and you visited me." We readily recognize Jesus in the face of the immigrant; the challenging part is figuring out how to resolve a problem with no easy answers.

Our church recognizes both the right of countries to establish border controls and the right of individuals to migrate in order to live a life of human dignity.

As we work toward trade agreements that allow people to support themselves in their countries of origin, we need to convince lawmakers to enact immigration reform that provides an earned path to citizenship for those who have been living and working in our country; protects families and encourages reunification; has legal pathways for temporary workers to come and work in a safe, humane and orderly manner and be able to return to their country of origin, and restores the precious legal right of due process protections for immigrants.

I encourage you to take part in Public Policy Weekend by making yourself more aware of the issues at hand, and the very real plight of the migrants, our sisters and brothers in Christ.

Parishes provide a perfect forum for addressing such a controversial issue because we begin with a common language of love for one another. Of course, there will be those who are concerned about security issues, and others who envision a world without borders. I invite you to listen to each other respectfully without judgment or bias and to find areas of agreement.

Perhaps one thing we can all agree on is that we are called always as Christians to act in a loving manner toward other human beings, and to seek the most just and loving way of dealing with controversial and divisive issues that affect God’s children.

Peace to all.

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