Entre Amigos - Opinion Column - Diciembre 2011 (inglés)

Diciembre 15, 2011

Shepherds to their Flock
By Mar Muñoz-Visoso

Ka-Boom! At midnight Los Angeles time, 2 a.m. in San Antonio, Texas, on December 12, the bomb dropped.

In a collegial act of national proportions, the Hispanic/Latino bishops of the United States circled the wagons around undocumented people and all immigrants in this country. They greeted Our Lady of Guadalupe on her feast day — and all of us for that matter—with an open letter to immigrants. The letter was signed by 33 of them and issued simultaneously from the two “mother sees” of U.S. Hispanic Catholicism, L.A. and San-An.

Pastoral in nature, the letter is not so much concerned with the ins and outs of comprehensive immigration reform, though they clearly and unequivocally support it in the letter. It is, above all, a message of pastoral concern to an often neglected group of people—many of whom are Hispanic and Catholic—from a substantial group of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy who share the same roots.

In the Catholic tradition, one of the defining roles for a bishop is concern for the poor and people on the margin, including people on the move. The bishops have a responsibility to pastorally and spiritually care for all Catholics currently residing in the territories entrusted to them, whether native or foreigner, and whatever be their immigration status.

The Hispanic/Latino community understandably looks to bishops from their particular communities for spiritual support and leadership. Part of that role requires speaking up against injustice and oppression.

In their Letter to Immigrants the Latino bishops tell millions of undocumented immigrants in our country that they “are not alone or forgotten;” and that they welcome them in the local Churches.

The bishops acknowledge the many contributions immigrants of all types make to our society, our culture and our economy. They lament when they are treated with disdain or blamed for an economic crisis they have not created. “We will not find the solutions to our problems by showing hatred,” they say.

Using beautiful comparisons to Jesus’ own pilgrimage on Earth and to the Holy Family, the bishops empathize with the immigrants’ journey. It is worth reading it in its entirety. But here are some pearls.

“In your suffering faces we see the true face of Jesus Christ.” “We are well aware of the sacrifice you make for your families’ well-being…You perform the most difficult jobs and…instead of receiving our thanks, you are treated as criminals.”

“We are conscious of the frustration of youth and young adults who have grown up in this country and whose dreams are shattered because they lack legal immigration status… This situation cries out to God for a worthy and humane solution.”

“Immigrants are a revitalizing force for our country. The lack of a just, humane and effective reform of immigration laws negatively affects the common good of the entire United States.”

And, “It pains and saddens us that many of our Catholic brothers and sisters have not supported our petitions for changes in the immigration law that will protect your basic rights while you contribute your hard work to our country. We promise to keep working to bring about this change.”

“We are not going to wait until the law changes to welcome you who are already here into our churches… As members of the Body of Christ which is the Church, we offer you spiritual nourishment. Feel welcome to Holy Mass, the Eucharist.”

“We ought to open our hearts and arms to the recently arrived, just as Jesus asks us to do when he says, ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was an alien and you took me into your house’ (Mt 25:35).”

“Their presence challenges us to be more courageous in denouncing the injustices they suffer.”

And finally, “We urge you not to despair. Keep faith in Jesus the migrant who continues to walk beside you.”

If I had just one wish for the New Year, I would ask that this letter be shared in Catholic communities around the country, with or without large immigrant presence. And that it serves to establish a true dialogue, without anger and acrimony, on the immigration crisis we face, the realities undocumented immigrants live every day, and what’s a Christian to do.

As the celebration of National Migration Week (January 8-14) approaches, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus we are invited to welcome Christ in the migrant. Perhaps the stranger can teach us something about Jesus himself. Perhaps we may even be able to recognize Him when we share the breaking of the Bread.

Mar Muñoz-Visoso is assistant director of media relations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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