Best Coverage of Immigration: First Place
Content From January 2014
Editors Note: Each year, the Catholic Press Association puts out a call for entries of books, newspapers, magazines, and other publications to its Catholic Press Awards program. Ligurian won first place for Best Coverage of Immigration. The entry included three pieces within a single edition: Plain Talk by Fr. Bruce Lewandowski, CSsR; Many Faces, One Church by Vanthanh Nguyen, SVD; Immigration, the Church’s Position by Victor Carmona.
The awards honor the accomplishments of Catholic journalists and publishers and affirm their commitment to spreading the Good News. For Liguori, they affirm our commitment to the mission of the Redemptorists.
Judges comments: These stories value accuracy and real stories and combine this with a strong call-to-action centered around inclusion and compassion.
Plain Talk by Fr. Bruce Lewandowski, CSsR
Cultural Inclusion Is Vital
The church custodian calls 911 because two men are lingering in the church after lighting candles at our Lady’s shrine. The church has experienced a few robberies at the poor box, and the custodian says the two dark-skinned men look suspicious. The men are confused; in India, lighting candles in church never caused such a stir.
A family, recent arrivals from Kenya, finds it difficult to get used to the American style of worship at their parish. They find the Mass empty and miss the two-hour-plus Masses of singing, clapping, and dancing in the aisles back home. They’ve approached the coordinator of liturgy in their parish and have been told, “We don’t do that here.” They’re starting to think that, in America, they might find a better home in the Baptist church.
Mexican parents of a ten-month-old boy have been visiting parish after parish; they want to baptize their son on his first birthday and can’t understand why a Catholic has to register in a parish before the baptism can take place. They never had this problem in Mexico.
What do all these folks have in common? They’re all Catholic. They’re all immigrants. And they’ve all had a run-in with culturally insensitive church personnel. In an increasingly diverse Church, these incidents are more common in the United States than one may think. Inadvertently, we have created a kind of national parish where the Mass is suited to white, middle-class, English-speaking Americans who don’t want to attend Mass more than one hour a week. We have created a consumer church where we get what we tithe for. The result is that Catholic immigrants can and do look for a church home somewhere else.
The Catholic Church in America is increasing in diversity, according to the August 2013 statistics study by CARA (the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) titled “Cultural Diversity in the Catholic Church in the United States.” There is a growth in parishes with two or more cultural or linguistic communities. Sadly, what’s not increasing significantly is the number of church leaders and associates who are competent to serve in communities with this type of diverse ministerial landscape. Instead of creating parishes of inclusion and integration, some have created and maintain strongholds of alienation and exclusion. While the congregation sings “all are welcome,” the underlying message may be misconstrued as, “you are welcome if you look like us, talk like us, and worship like us.”
A few parishes and archdioceses have taken seriously the call by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to implement a plan for cultural integration and inclusion. Abundant material and training are available on the USCCB website. Visit usccb.org and search for “Building Cultural Competencies for Ministers.”
Many Faces, One Church: Diversity in Our Midst: A Gift and a Blessing by: Van Thanh Nguyen, SVD
I recently gave a talk titled “Celebrating Diversity in Unity” at St. Patrick Parish in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The topic was germane because of growing tensions among parishoners over the changing face of the parish. Like many Catholic parishes in the United States, St. Patrick’s is ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse.
The community comprises three distinct groups: Anglos, Hispanics, and Vietnamese. Different though they are, they try to work together and respect one another’s cultural differences. However, it hasn’t always been easy. Different customs and practices often lead to conflict and tension. A simple issue such as which statue of Mary should be placed in the church—Our Lady of Fatima, Guadalupe, or La Vang—can prove to be contentious and problematic. Fortunately, the pastoral team—also culturally diverse—helps ease most tensions. The pastor is a Vietnamese American who is fluent in English and Vietnamese. Another priest, an Anglo American who speaks perfect Spanish, was brought in to help with the growing demands of the Hispanic population.
My talk was simultaneously translated into Vietnamese and Spanish. The closing Mass was celebrated in three languages, highlighting the richness of the community. While the people in this parish disagree on various issues, they nevertheless respect the others’ customs and beliefs. They genuinely seek to be one body of Christ. They gather together to celebrate their diversity because they recognize it as a gift and a blessing.
As I walked out of the church that day, I noticed all three statues of our Lady were placed prominently in their respective locations. I must admit my visit opened my eyes significantly to the many faces of the Church. While rich in diversity, we remain one holy Catholic Church that is steeped in tradition. Thus, we have many reasons to celebrate!
A Marvelous Rainbow
America was and is built on the backbones of immigrants. Initially those new Americans came from European countries. In concert with their arrival and commitment, Catholicism in the United States has greatly benefited, and all of us can be proud of America’s multicultural heritage. This mosaic of cultures becomes increasingly more evident as the Church in the United States continues to welcome immigrants from around the world, particularly from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. At our Sunday celebrations, we notice and should marvel at the many nations and continents represented in our pews. The Anglo, African, Asian, and Hispanic faces form a magnificent rainbow of colors.
The face of the priesthood is also changing. On any given Sunday, thousands of internationally born priests preach from the pulpit. While an exact count is not possible, it is estimated that there are about 8,500 internationally born priests currently serving in the United States. Each year, about 300 new priests from many nations come to America to begin a new ministry. The majority of these newly immigrated priests come from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, for example, the Mass on any given weekend is conducted in forty-five different languages.
Unquestionably the face of the Catholic Church in the United States is changing, and it shall continue to be fashioned and enriched by newcomers, many of whom are Catholic immigrants. Its transformation, however, brings ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity in our liturgical and sacramental celebrations, influences our religious devotions, and even alters our theology and spirituality. Different cultural practices and expressions of faith can cause tension and disturb the unity of the Church. The reality of today’s Church might cause many Catholics to experience, more acutely perhaps than in previous times, an uneasy tension. But we should question: Is it a healthy tension that ought to prove enriching, or does it cause more misunderstanding and greater separation?
Diversity: As Old as The Church
Diversity and the often-accompanying tension are not contemporary phenomena. The Church has been diverse since its inception. Although the earliest followers of Jesus Christ were only Palestinian Jews, soon after Pentecost, Hellenistic Jews also became followers. The list of those present at Pentecost indicates people came from all over the Roman Empire. There were “Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia,
Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs” (Acts 2:9–11). The Book of Acts also records that the Hellenist believers became numerous and caused a bit of tension within the community. Thus, the apostles chose seven deacons to attend to their own ethnic group (Acts 6:5–7).
Eventually, the Gentiles also joined the mix. Through the success of the preaching of Paul and Barnabas, many Gentiles turned to the Lord. While Paul and Barnabas readily embraced the Gentile believers into the Church without many restrictions, some Jewish believers forced the Gentile believers to follow the Mosaic Law, especially the circumcision ritual. In other words, Gentiles had to become proselytized or fully Jewish in order to be Christians. This obligation obviously would not allow Paul, Barnabas, and other missionaries to associate and have table fellowship with Gentiles. This rigid restriction would surely interfere with the missionary work of the Church. The issue concerning the inclusion of Gentiles, particularly enforcing circumcision, was no small matter, for it could have divided or even destroyed the Church (see Galatians 2:11–14 and Acts 15:1–2). The heated debate led to the convening of the Jerusalem Council, the first council of the Church. Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the testimonies of Paul, Barnabas, and Peter, the Church imposed only minor conditions on Gentile converts (see Acts 15:1–29). The decision was monumental for the Church’s growth and development.
Since its beginning, the Church wisely recognized unity was neither a cause for separation nor uniformity, but rather that there could be diversity in unity. Diversity wasn’t seen as a threat of disunity but as a gift and a blessing that fostered the enrichment of the Church. The Church accepted that there were two different ways of spreading the Gospel, one to the circumcised, entrusted to Peter, and the other to the uncircumcised, entrusted to Paul (Galatians 2:7–9).
Importantly, faith in Jesus Christ kept the Church tied together as one body. Interestingly, Paul often used the image of the body and its members to confront the various party factions in the Churches (see Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12). Paul recognized that diversity is indispensable, he writes, “as a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12–13). Paul accepts the differences of members as an enrichment of the body, and since each is unique, the Spirit distributes its gifts to each person as it chooses.
Again, Paul says, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit”
(1 Corinthians 12:4–7). Diversity that produces such marvelous gifts and comes from the Spirit cannot become disorder. Rather, unity is guaranteed by God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit through faith and love.
The Apostle Paul saw a deep bond of unity between particular churches. The preaching of a common truth united all believers. Furthermore, baptism and the Eucharist also created and fostered communion among Christians. The words of the institution of the Lord’s Supper—found in
1 Corinthians 11:23–26 and in three of the four Gospels (Matthew 26:26–28, Mark 14:22–24, and Luke 22:17–20)—may infer that the Eucharist was fundamentally the same in Corinth as in Antioch or in Rome.
The Church then as well as now is a communion, modeled on the love among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It seeks to imitate that communion of the oneness of the Trinity. Moreover, the Church is catholic! In its universality, it welcomes and gathers all people without exception—“from every tribe and tongue, people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). It is a communion in diversity, not in uniformity.
Church as Communion and Catholic
Interestingly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) speaks much about unity and diversity (CCC 1200–1206). The Church recognizes that the mystery celebrated in the liturgy is one, but the forms of its celebration can be and are diverse. The various traditions express the richness of the mystery of Christ; they complement and enrich one another. The purpose of the sacraments is “to sanctify [people], to build up the Body of Christ and, finally, to give worship to God” (CCC 1123).
Furthermore, in the act of worship, believers are united through the sacraments of faith. This principle, which refers to the relationship between worship and belief, is considered very important in Catholic theology. The Latin phrase lex orandi, lex credendi is loosely translated as “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” This ancient Christian principle provided the theological framework for establishing the creeds, the canon of sacred Scripture, and other doctrinal matters. The catechism states: “The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles—whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi” (CCC 1124). This axiom is an adaptation from St. Prosper of Aquitaine, a fifth-century Christian writer and a contemporary of St. Augustine. The original version is ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi (“that the law of praying establishes the law of believing”), which simply means that the Church’s teaching (lex credendi) is articulated and made manifest in the celebration of the liturgy and prayer (lex orandi). In other words, in an act of worship every faithful member is connected to all others as members of the mystical body of Christ in the Holy Spirit. Though the form might be different, believers are all united as one holy Catholic Church.
New Evangelization Today
The Catholic Church in the United States is experiencing a profound demographic shift as communities of non-European origin are on the rise. Hispanics, for example, comprise more than 35 percent of all Catholics in the United States, and more than 20 percent of all Catholic parishes have Hispanic ministries. Recent studies suggest that the Latino composition will continue to grow for decades to come. Consequently, mono-cultural parishes are being replaced by “shared parishes,” that is parishes in which more than one language, racial, or cultural group worship together as one Christian community.
As “multicultural” or “shared” parishes become the norm, everyone must be prepared to embrace this reality and learn to appreciate its extraordinary variety. Ministers and pastoral workers are especially encouraged to prepare themselves to work in diverse environments and to foster the right knowledge, attitudes, and skills in order to be effective in the diverse vineyard of the Lord
In 2007, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) established several priorities for action. One was the “recognition of cultural diversity.” The bishops were concerned beyond the practical matter of diversity. They saw the issue as something “integral to the Church’s very identity and mission.” They said, “Proficiency in matters of culture and intercultural relations is an essential feature of the ongoing process of conversion by which the Gospel becomes life for people.” They stressed an urgent need to grow in knowledge and develop appropriate attitudes and skills to carry out the Church’s mission to evangelize. Greater cultural diversity in the Church has become part of the new evangelization today. The bishops encouraged the establishment of programs that reflected intercultural competencies. A manual, Building Intercultural Competence for Ministers, is available online and in print to help ministry leaders achieve a basic level of awareness and proficiency in the area of intercultural competency.
A Blessing and a Challenge
We are living in a time when ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity is more evident and intense than ever. Like it or not, the face of the Church in the twenty-first century will continue to be even more ethnically diverse. Diversity is not a thing to overcome but an essential component to foster. This can be an hour of great opportunities or an hour of tragic disaster. As a people of God, we must learn to pray, work, and live together as an intercultural (not just multicultural) Church in which diversity provides an opportunity for growth and enrichment rather than separation and disunity. Indeed, the Church is experiencing the dawn of a new day. We do not need to go far to find people “from every tribe and tongue” (Revelation 5:9). It is a blessing and a challenge!
Immigration: The Church’s Position by Victor Carmona
While immigration is a political and a socioeconomic issue, for the Church it has a deeper meaning. On January 19, Pope Francis celebrates the Vatican’s 100th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. To commemorate the anniversary, he issued “Migrants and Refugees: Towards a Better World.” His words, like those of his predecessors—including John Paul II and Benedict XVI—are both beautiful and challenging. For nearly a century, popes have been calling on Catholics everywhere to see immigrants through the eyes of faith. This centennial is an opportunity for Catholics in the United States to do so anew.
A Global View
Our popes address immigration as a global phenomenon, not just an American one. For example, in 2010 an estimated seven billion people lived in the world. That year, 214 million immigrants left their homelands to live elsewhere permanently. Forty-three million came to the United States. That same year, the worldwide undocumented immigrant population stood at 32 million to 43 million people who settled in a country without its government’s authorization. Eleven million of them did so in the United States. Each day, Catholics all over the world meet and befriend legal and undocumented immigrants, many of whom are our brothers and sisters in faith.
Seeing Immigrants Through the Eyes of Faith
World Day of Migrants and Refugees began with a pope’s plea. In 1914, Italians were fleeing to the United States and Brazil in search of a better life (see Acta Apostolicae Sedis 21, 699–701). Economic hardship and the perils of war were taking their toll. For many families, leaving was their only option. In response, Pope Pius X sent a letter to all Italian bishops asking them to identify priests who would join the exodus to be with and care for the people. Pius also asked the bishops to hold an annual collection for training those priests. Subsequent popes continued issuing messages to address the needs of immigrants and, beginning in 2003, refugees.
The papal messages are surprising because we tend to see immigrants as problems to be solved. Instead, in his writings Pope John Paul II sees them as instruments of peace who are furthering a civilization of love. Benedict in his works sees immigrant families as builders of the culture of life. Finally, Francis sees the suffering that immigrants experience as a sign of globalized indifference toward them. He reminds us to aspire, as they do, to creating a better world.
In 2004, John Paul II described immigrants as instruments of peace. While he recognizes that countless injustices and tragedies drive immigrants from home, he calls attention to the fact that, even then, “immigrants can make a valid contribution to the consolidation of peace” (John Paul II, “Migration With a View to Peace”). The path to the civilization of love demands reconciliation among ourselves and our communities. On the one hand, immigrants can foster reconciliation and dialogue across linguistic and cultural barriers. On the other hand, John Paul said in the same message, the communities that welcome them can practice “openness in solidarity [which] becomes a gift and condition of peace.” For this reason, John Paul does not speak of assimilating immigrants but of their integration. Uniformity assimilates. Peace rests on dialogue, convergence, and integration.
Ultimately, John Paul writes, domestic and international peace must go hand in hand with “justice and respect for human rights.” These include the right not to emigrate (or leave) one’s country by being able to live “in peace and dignity” there, the right to emigrate, and to immigrate. The Church supports these rights on moral grounds, including the universal destination of goods. We believe, John Paul writes elsewhere, that “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone [….] The earth, by reason of its fruitfulness and its capacity to satisfy human needs, is God’s first gift for the sustenance of human life” (John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 31).
While God does provide for all, when a government fails in its duty to guarantee “the possibility to satisfy basic needs such as food, health care, work, housing and education[,]” the only option for its citizens is to emigrate (“Migration With a View to Peace”). The governments of destination countries have a similar duty to their own citizens. Therefore, they may regulate immigration to protect the national common good, discerned objectively and in good faith. (“Objectively” means with an eye to Scripture and tradition as freestanding sources of morality that help us discern the goodness or badness of our actions.) If so, government officials are morally responsible for protecting the human dignity of immigrants from the moment of detention until their deportation. So we need to ask ourselves: Are we and our representatives debating and setting immigration policy objectively and in good faith?
Immigrants and Their Families Are a Place and Resource of the Culture of Life
Pope Benedict’s 2007 message, dedicated to “The Migrant Family,” reminds us of the biblical and moral reasons behind the Church’s concern for the well-being of immigrant families. In it, he turns to the Holy Family’s escape to Egypt (see Matthew 2:13–15) to reflect on the experience of immigrant families today. We can easily romanticize Christ’s birth and childhood, especially during Christmastime. Instead, Benedict writes: “In this misfortune experienced by the Family of Nazareth, obliged to take refuge in Egypt, we can catch a glimpse of the painful condition in which all migrants live, especially, refugees, exiles, evacuees, internally displaced persons, those who are persecuted. We can take a quick look at the difficulties that every migrant family lives through[.]” (Benedict XVI, “The Migrant Family”) The pope’s words reminds us that, like Joseph and Mary before them, parents today continue making the heart-wrenching decision to leave their homeland. They flee political and/or socioeconomic hardship fearing that the experience will tear their family apart.
Pope Benedict reminds us in “The Migrant Family” that a family’s desire to remain together is morally significant. Immigrant families are, in his words, “a place and resource for the culture of life and a factor for the integration of values.” Popes have consistently called on governments across the world to set the principle of family unity as the cornerstone of their immigration policies because immigrant families are life-giving, both to their own members and to the communities where they settle. St. Thomas helps us understand how so. God created humankind to live and flourish in the context of family life and friendships because divine and human love protects and provides. Thus, we enflesh our love for God and one another, even strangers, within those relationships, for the sake of their needs and ours (see Summa Theologica II-II, Questions 26 and 32). For this reason, we owe our families the duty of providing for their material needs. We owe our fellow citizens the duty of seeking the common good together. We owe strangers the duty of providing relief and assistance whenever circumstances require (as is the case with refugees and asylum seekers).
St. Thomas’ insights into human nature suggest why undocumented immigrants will risk their lives to provide for their families. They also help to highlight the perilous situation that millions of mixed-status families face in the United States. We tend to presume that undocumented immigrants are strangers who lead isolated lives, but the majority of them are husbands and wives, moms and dads of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. The immigration debate centers on the punishment that adult undocumented immigrants should suffer for breaking immigration law, including deportation. Yet the future looks bleak for a society that purposefully breaks apart millions of immigrant and mixed-status families in the name of justice and fairness. Such a society will be unable to nourish—or be nourished by—the culture of life. It is time to consider the duty we owe to the millions of fellow citizens who belong to those families. Are we seeking a solution, for their sake and ours, objectively and in good faith?
Immigrants Challenge Us to Create a Better World
Pope Francis adds his voice to that of his predecessors, hoping with them that the Gospel and our tradition can still challenge us to be better persons, to be better Christians. Last July, Francis visited the island of Lampedusa, Italy, where Italians are now attempting to provide for the needs of tens of thousands of immigrants who are crossing the Mediterranean Sea in small boats, hoping to survive. Like their undocumented immigrant brothers and sisters along the U.S.-Mexico border, thousands have died in the attempt. There, during Mass, Francis delivered a homily that was at once comforting to the immigrants and to the people of Lampedusa and challenging to Europe’s citizens. In the homily he asks, echoing God’s question to Cain along with Rachel’s weeping for her dead children (Genesis 4, Jeremiah 31, Matthew 2): “Has any one of us wept because of this situation and others like it? Has any one of us grieved for the death of these brothers and sisters?” (Pope Francis, “Visit to Lampedusa: Homily of Holy Father Francis.”) He then answers: “We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion—suffering with others: The globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!”
The Pope’s message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees, “Migrants and Refugees: Towards a Better World,” deepens his reflections at Lampedusa and broadens its challenge from Europe’s citizens to the world’s, including us in America. Immigration is a sign of the times that reveals the sin of our globalized indifference. It points to the hope in Christ that we must enflesh in solidarity and compassion. “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons,” Francis reminds us in the “Migrants” message, and “who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more.”
It is clear that the Church’s faith and morals will continue driving our popes to challenge us, disquieting as that may be. They see echoes of a civilization of hate, of a culture of death, and of globalized indifference in many of our responses to the needs of immigrants (legal and undocumented). Yet they also know that we can respond by seeing immigrants through the eyes of faith: as instruments of the civilization of love, as families that strengthen the culture of life, and as men, women, and children who remind us to aspire to—and create—a better world. Will we?