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opinion/commentary View Comments

Let Scripture Guide Treatment of Immigrants

Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Wednesday, February 9, 2011
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LOS ANGELES (CNS)—In speeches the same day, Los Angeles' cardinal and its coadjutor archbishop talked about immigration in the United States, with one calling some of the rhetoric about the issue "not worthy of the Gospel," and the other saying the current system "is an immoral system that thrives upon the weakness and suffering of those without a voice."

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony told an audience at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill Feb. 2 that the ethical injunctions of Scripture require "compassion for the stranger, the alien, and the worker. Whatever economic, political or social policies we discuss—and whatever discussion of constitutional rights and liberties— we cannot turn our backs to this biblical legacy of hope."

Taking up the question of whether undocumented immigrants are good for the economy, Cardinal Mahony traced the roots of the word economy to its Greek origins, where the principal focus was not monetary but how a household is ordered.

"God's household, God's grand economy, is one in which holiness and truth, justice and love, and above all, peace ... prevail," the cardinal said. "In my view, what makes for a good economy is the full flourishing of everyone who is part of God's economy, household or community."

He said that no other commitments can trump the biblical tradition of compassion for the stranger, the alien and the worker.

"Whatever economic, political or social policies we discuss—and whatever discussion of constitutional rights and liberties—we cannot turn our backs to this biblical legacy of hope," he said.

Speaking the same day in Naples, Fla., to Legatus, a Catholic business leaders organization, Coadjutor Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles also drew on Scripture to explain that "the church's approach to immigration—like the church's approach to every social issue—is never about politics. It is about preaching the good news of God's love for all peoples. It is about transforming the city of man into the family of God."

As coadjutor, Archbishop Gomez will take over as head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, when Cardinal Mahony retires, which is expected to be in late February.

Noting he is among those who are bothered by the illegal immigration status of some people, the archbishop said, "I don't like it when our rule of law is flouted. And I support just and appropriate punishments."

However, he added, "right now, we are imposing penalties that leave wives without husbands, children without parents. We are deporting fathers and leaving single mothers to raise children on little to no income.

"We are a better people than that. We have always been a nation of justice and law," said Archbishop Gomez. "But we have also been a nation of mercy and forgiveness. We can find a better way. It begins in seeing immigrants as human beings. As mothers and fathers. As children of God."

Archbishop Gomez said that as an immigrant from Mexico himself, he understands well that "family means everything for Hispanics," who make up the majority of new immigrants. "The Hispanic idea of community is a family of families—great grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. And always, family is connected to the Catholic Church and to God."

That's why current enforcement policies "workplace raids, detentions and deportations are such a humanitarian tragedy," he said. "We are destroying families in the name of enforcing our laws."

In his speech in North Carolina, Cardinal Mahony told stories of families torn apart by immigration enforcement—including that of three North Carolina children left by the side of the road for nine hours after their Honduran undocumented immigrant mother was taken away for not having a driver's license.

He also described his own experience of an immigration raid at his family's chicken processing plant when he was a child.

"It was an extremely terrifying and intimidating moment for those employees, all of whom had papers," he said. "I will never forget the terror that those men with their guns created in the workplace that day.

"These are American stories," he said. "Do these stories reflect who we are, who we want to be, and how we want to be remembered by future generations? Is this who we are at our best? In a word, no."

After elaborating on the economic model of God's household, the cardinal said that in Catholic thought people don't serve the economy, the economy serves humanity, "so that each person and his or her family can live in dignity and without want and can move, if needed, to find the place of hope."

"Our laws should be configured to ensure that even the low-skilled laborer, who sits at the bottom of the economic ladder, reaps the fruits of their labor in dignity and with full rights in the society," he said.

As today's system operates, however, "we accept their labor, their separation from family, their taxes, and their purchasing power, yet we do not offer the undocumented population the protection of our laws," said Cardinal Mahony.

"To restore order to God's household, we must ensure that all are welcome to the table," he said, meaning immigration reforms that protect those on the margins of the economy.

Calling current immigration laws unjust, the cardinal said society gladly accepts the toil and taxes of the immigrant work force, "but look the other way when they are exploited in the workplace, die in the desert, or are arrested and deported for the most minor of civil violations, like jaywalking.

"When convenient politically, we scapegoat the immigrant without acknowledging our complicity," he said.

He noted that of the nearly half million immigrants who enter the country without permission or stay beyond the limits of their visas, nearly 90 percent get jobs within six months, but there are only 5,000 visas available annually by which they might come in legally.

"This is a disordered system," he said. "hardly the arrangement of a household according to a plan where there is room enough for all at the table."


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Peter of Alcantara: Peter was a contemporary of well-known 16th-century Spanish saints, including Ignatius of Loyola and John of the Cross. He served as confessor to St. Teresa of Avila. Church reform was a major issue in Peter’s day, and he directed most of his energies toward that end. His death came one year before the Council of Trent ended. 
<p>Born into a noble family (his father was the governor of Alcantara in Spain), Peter studied law at Salamanca University and, at 16, joined the so-called Observant Franciscans (also known as the discalced, or barefoot, friars). While he practiced many penances, he also demonstrated abilities which were soon recognized. He was named the superior of a new house even before his ordination as a priest; at the age of 39, he was elected provincial; he was a very successful preacher. Still, he was not above washing dishes and cutting wood for the friars. He did not seek attention; indeed, he preferred solitude.</p><p>Peter’s penitential side was evident when it came to food and clothing. It is said that he slept only 90 minutes each night. While others talked about Church reform, Peter’s reform began with himself. His patience was so great that a proverb arose: "To bear such an insult one must have the patience of Peter of Alcantara."</p><p>In 1554, Peter, having received permission, formed a group of Franciscans who followed the Rule of St. Francis with even greater rigor. These friars were known as Alcantarines. Some of the Spanish friars who came to North and South America in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were members of this group. At the end of the 19th century, the Alcantarines were joined with other Observant friars to form the Order of Friars Minor.</p><p>As spiritual director to St. Teresa, Peter encouraged her in promoting the Carmelite reform. His preaching brought many people to religious life, especially to the Secular Franciscan Order, the friars and the Poor Clares.</p><p>He was canonized in 1669.</p> American Catholic Blog Remember the widow’s mite. She threw into the treasury of the temple only two small coins, but with them, all her great love…. It is, above all, the interior value of the gift that counts: the readiness to share everything, the readiness to give oneself. —Pope John Paul II

 
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