Shepherd's Voice

Jesus’ instruction on immigration: ‘Treat others as we would want to be treated’

In this week’s interview, Archbishop George J. Lucas speaks with communication manager David Hazen about immigration. The archbishop encourages us to regard immigrants first and foremost in terms of their human dignity, asking ourselves how we would want to be treated if we were in their shoes. In view of this awareness, he suggests several ways we can assist immigrants in our parishes and communities, allowing us to more fully live out Christ’s call to love our neighbor.

Q: The U.S. bishops have designated January 5-11, 2020, as National Migration Week. Why is this annual observance important for us, Archbishop?

The questions surrounding immigration can be very hotly debated and politically divisive. The bishops, however, would like us all to remember that we are talking about the lives of our brothers and sisters in the human family. The challenges facing anyone who leaves his or her native home to settle somewhere else are significant human challenges.

Pope Francis keeps reminding us that each immigrant and refugee has a name, and a face, and a story. Our first responsibility as members of the body of Christ and as disciples of Jesus is not to think about them in political terms, but in human and in Gospel terms.

Because we are a nation of immigrants, the church in this country is invited to reflect on the present situation of immigrants and refugees here. We are encouraged then to think about how we might work together for a just path forward for them, in their desire to have a safe and productive life for themselves and for their families.

Q: How can we in the local church respond to the needs of those who are migrating into our community?

I see many people welcoming refugee families and helping them get settled and befriending them. In our Catholic community, we have many parishes that have new vitality because of immigrants and refugees who have arrived here in recent years. We try then as an archdiocesan family to provide the sacramental and community life that the parishes that make possible for our new neighbors.

The legal path for immigrants can be complicated or obscure. That is why I am very proud of Catholic Charities’ work in the arena of immigration legal services. They have experts available who can help people to navigate the immigration system and to understand the law. That is a very important service.

Our country has welcomed and integrated new people for many generations since its founding. I do not think the system as it stands needs to be so complicated. We ought to continue to try to help people through the complications, of course. But we also need to try to influence the reform of the immigration system so that it is coherent and accommodates those who are already living here peacefully and productively, contributing to our church, our neighborhoods, our economy and the vitality of our country.

In this week’s interview, Archbishop George J. Lucas speaks with communication manager David Hazen about immigration. The archbishop encourages us to regard immigrants first and foremost in terms of their human dignity, asking ourselves how we would want to be treated if we were in their shoes. In view of this awareness, he suggests several ways we can assist immigrants in our parishes and communities, allowing us to more fully live out Christ’s call to love our neighbor.

Q: What principles does the church offer us for approaching issues related to immigration?

The Catechism teaches us that people have the right to migrate for important reasons – their own welfare, or the welfare and safety of their children and families. At the same time, people have a right to live at peace in their own home, in their own homeland.

The fact is that many people are not able to live peacefully, safely and productively in their own homes, and they conclude they have no choice but to leave. This is a challenge in the human family and in the family of nations which we need to take more notice of.

We know from the instruction of Jesus that we are to treat others as we would want to be treated. A way of approaching that is to think: If I felt that my family or children were in danger because of religious persecution, warfare or gang violence, and that we had to go someplace else to try to find safety, what would I hope to find there?

I think that we do not do that often enough. Naturally, we can tend to look at people coming to our country in terms of what we expect from them, or how we want them to measure up. That is not entirely unreasonable, but the invitation of Jesus is to look at them first and put ourselves in their shoes. Then we should see if there is a way to create the legal structures and social supports so they can be treated in the way we would hope to be treated in their situation.

Not all immigrants are in desperate situations, of course. Some come looking for education, some come looking for work, some are marrying into families that are established here. But in our Catholic faith, we are not encouraged to be suspicious of people who are different from ourselves. The Scriptures encourage hospitality and a ready sharing of what we have. All we have comes from God in the first place.

Q: Would you say then that at their root, these immigration issues are for the faithful an invitation to conversion?

Yes. A basic principle of our Catholic teaching is that each person is created in the image and likeness of God and has a dignity that is God-given. My neighbor’s dignity has a claim on me. To the extent that my neighbor is struggling, looking for assistance, looking for welcome, looking for recognition of his or her desire to live and to flourish, I am called to a deeper conversion and a generosity of spirit.

Our culture can be very isolating. We can easily stay in our own little worlds and remain in our own groups – whether on social media or elsewhere. We may not notice the people around us who simply need to be welcomed and made to feel that this place can be their home, too. Our other efforts to promote human life and dignity ring hollow if we ignore or denigrate an entire segment of the community. As I said earlier, we need to create a coherent immigration system so that it is possible for our country to continue to grow and be enriched by the arrival of immigrants.

In St. Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord gives us some practical points about what it means to love our neighbor. Welcoming the stranger is not negotiable; it is one of the points on which we will be judged. It is not enough to simply say, “Well, I’m not doing anything against anyone.” This welcoming is an active Christian practice.

As we reflected on our vision for the archdiocesan church, we stated very clearly that the Lord’s plan is for there to be only one church. That is a very rich concept in Christianity, and it is not the same thing as a simple uniformity. If we want to really live as part of this church, it requires us to enrich it by our own participation and to choose not to live past one another. It means taking notice of our brothers and sisters, those whose culture is the same, and those whose culture is different.

We certainly ought to appreciate and celebrate our own culture, our own background. But we should also realize that it is not the full extent of the human experience, nor of the church. National Migration Week is a call for us to reflect and act. We cannot necessarily shape the whole country or the whole world at once, but we can start here in the community of the church. We can say yes to the Lord’s will that we be one in him, and see that unity has a practical claim on our attention to each other.