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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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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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