Catholic teaching calls for welcoming the stranger
Bishop Carlos Sevilla calls immigration and the need to welcome the stranger one of the most pressing social problems facing the nation today.
It elicits passionate responses -- sometimes not in the most civil tone, he added.
The retired bishop of Yakima, Wash., was joined by Jesuit Father Peter Neeley of the Kino Border Initiative in southern Arizona and the northern Sonora region of Mexico in discussing "the Church and the Stranger" at a conference on "Immigrants and Refugees: Social, Political, Legal and Ethical Problems and Solutions" held by St. Louis University May 21-22.
Bishop Sevilla focused on Church teaching. "Whatever you did to these least brothers of Mine, you did to Me," the bishop said in referring to Jesus' teaching.
The Catholic Church is in an ideal position to address the global phenomenon, he said, pointing out that the Church is:
â€¢ An immigrant Church that grew with the nation. By 1920, half of all U.S. Catholics were foreign-born. Today the Church in this country represents some 50 nationalities. Those who are of Hispanic origin represent both the present and future of the Church.
â€¢ A universal Church that sees immigration from all sides. The ideal answer to migration is sustainable development so that people can remain in their country of origin and earn a decent living. The Church has and will continue to advocate for that outcome.
â€¢ A Church that stands for basic human rights and dignity.
"Welcoming the stranger is part of the Catholic faith," Bishop Sevilla said, noting that it is called for in both the Old Testament and New Testament. In Exodus, for example, God leads the Israelites to a new home. Other passages state the need to love the alien as yourself, he added.
In the New Testament, the Gospel details the Holy Family fleeing as refugees to Egypt to escape the threat of Herod. Jesus, Bishop Sevilla said, was "an itinerant preacher. That's no coincidence -- Christ was a migrant for a reason."
Jesus' teaching, the bishop said, is to welcome the stranger and to see the face of Christ in them. "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me" (Matthew 25-35).
The parable of the Good Samaritan shows how people need to reach out to others who are from a different culture, he said.
Papal encyclicals have built on these themes, he added, stating that immigrants have a right to a life of dignity. "The Church and her missions must reflect the teachings and example of Christ."
He tied those teachings to the need to respond to immigrants with pastoral care, social services and advocacy.
Pope Benedict XVI in a visit to the United States, Bishop Sevilla said, urged Americans to continue to not only welcome immigrants but to help them flourish.
The U.S. bishops have asked Catholics to take care of the migrants who are in our country and to urge reform of current laws, Bishop Sevilla said. "The dialogue needs to continue. We can make changes, and we have to keep this on the front burner. Jesus Christ is why we do the best we can for the migrant."
Father Neeley works with an effort among six religious organizations assisting migrants and communities affected by migration. On the Mexico side of the border, the effort offers meals, basic medical help and clothing as well as pastoral care to migrants who have been deported from the United States. At the Casa Nazaret shelter, the initiative offers safety, room and board to unaccompanied women and children who are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
Father Neeley told of the initiative volunteers helping a woman, eight months pregnant with a 5-year-old son, who had been caught walking across the Arizona desert. She had been fleeing both poverty and threats of violence and abuse, he said.
The people who are helped have no possessions and are despondent, afraid and confused. "We feed them materially but also spiritually," Father Neeley said.
- Before the Cross | We are an immigrant Church called to welcome strangers
- Local Catholics called to open the door of faith
- Before the Cross | We must welcome strangers, respect others' dignity
- Ministry aims to welcome divorced Catholic back to Church
- Billboard campaign makes correlation to Jesus the stranger and immigrants
- News »
- Papal News
- Religious Liberty
- Living Our Faith »
- Church Teaching »
- Opinion »
- Year of Faith
- Special Sections »