The mounting peril facing immigrants and refugees in the U.S. will only become more grave in 2018. Literally millions of undocumented residents, nearly 800,000 DACA recipients, a quarter-million Temporary Protected Status (TPS) residents and thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America face detention and deportation.
Fear stalks these neighbors and fellow parishioners. Sadly this is exactly what Acting Director of ICE Thomas Homan wants to happen. In testimony before Congress, Homan said that undocumented residents “should be afraid.” In a later interview he said he had “no regrets” about his remarks. Doubling down, Homan rejects the criticism of Church leaders that ICE arrests are tearing apart families. Rather, the blame, he says, should be on those who choose to start families in the United States.
No wonder the patron saint of Mexican migrants, the “protector” Saint Toribio Romo, is more popular than ever.
Given this pending tragedy the Church today would be wise to turn to the patron saints of immigration and refugees who, in previous generations, ministered to and advocated for new arrivals in America. These patron saints serve a dual purpose. They serve as a model for lay leaders, clergy and religious and our bishops as well. Further they give hope and strength to immigrants and refugees who are unclear what the future holds for them.
Pope Leo XIII, like Pope Francis, challenged the likes of Mother Cabrini and John the Baptist Scalabrini to leave their homeland and head to America to engage Italian and other immigrants, and assure them that the Catholic Church had their backs. They did not accomplish this by empty rhetoric, but by impressive deeds and forceful advocacy. Additionally they established religious orders and communities to assure that their work would be multiplied and continue to the present.
Mother Cabrini, by way of example, founded 67 institutions: hospitals, schools, and orphanages that served immigrants and refugees across this country. She was the first naturalized U.S. citizen to become a canonized saint. Over 120,000 people filled Soldier Field in Chicago in 1949 for a Mass of Thanksgiving for her canonization.
In the inspiring work “For the Love of Immigrants: Migration Writings and Letters of Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini,” we clearly see that the life work of the “apostle to the immigrants” remains relevant for today. Bishop Scalabrini wrote 60 pastoral letters, developed the Catholic press because he understood that the church must engage in direct action, promoted social transformation and influenced political decisions on behalf of immigrants. His writings and his myriad projects highlight a sense of urgency that characterized his ministry and like his contemporary Pope Leo XIII and our Holy Father Francis, the need to shake indifference and inspire others to action.
Four and a half years ago, Pope Francis began his pontificate with a heart-wrenching visit to the island of Lampedusa, where the bodies of refugee children and adults washed ashore after they tried to flee civil war and terrorism. Francis prayed for the victims but went much further to challenge the rest of us, condemning the “culture of comfort,” which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of the people.”
Just recently Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago pointed out, “There is something wrong in our churches when the Gospel is proclaimed and yet Catholics leave Mass with poisoning rhetoric in their hearts and on their lips.”
Thankfully, for us in the Diocese of Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, we have bishops Vann, Freyer, Nguyen, Mahony, Gomez, O’Connell, Salazar, Barnes, McElroy and others who stand on the shoulders of our patron saints of immigration.
Recently, 32 pastors joined with their bishops in prophetically calling on two Catholic members of Congress, in an open letter, to step up and support the Dream Act. Other priests and bishops have been meeting with ICE officials in their respective dioceses.
Catholic advocacy for immigrants, migrants and refugees is buttressed not only by the patron saints of immigrants, but by scripture, with Matthew 25:41 a stellar example of what is expected of us. Our Catholic social doctrine, papal pronouncements and the pastoral teachings of our bishops could not be clearer.
Most importantly our Catholic leaders have challenged us to journey with our immigrant sisters and brothers, pray for them and with them, and to act boldly on their behalf. We will accomplish this when we view both immigrants and immigration reform through the prism of the Gospel, the teachings of our church and our patron saints of immigrants; not the prism of our hyper-partisan political parties.
Editor’s note: Michael Clements, Justice In Education director of Training and Advocacy, was born and raised in North Orange County. He did both his undergraduate and graduate study at St. John’s Seminary and Theology. Mr. Clements has advocated alongside and for immigrants for over 30 years and is a volunteer organizer with the Office of Life, Justice, and Peace in the Diocese of Orange.