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Before the annual Migration Mass at St. Pius V Church in St. Louis in 2017, Lian Khartoum Pinang settled his 2-year-old daughter, Don Ngaih Lun. The parish has a large immigrant community.
Before the annual Migration Mass at St. Pius V Church in St. Louis in 2017, Lian Khartoum Pinang settled his 2-year-old daughter, Don Ngaih Lun. The parish has a large immigrant community.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

ARCHBISHOP | Serving Christ by serving immigrants

In debate on immigration policies, we need to remember this is a way to serve the Lord at the peripheries

People participated in a solidarity walk and Mass for immigrants in 2017.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The image and example of St. Martin of Tours is dear to my heart. Upon encountering a beggar, he drew his sword, cut his soldier’s cloak in half, and gave half to the beggar for his warmth. He later saw, in a dream, that the beggar was Christ Himself.

If you ask the people at St. Francis Community Services — a federated agency of Catholic Charities of St. Louis – how they approach the issue of immigration, you’ll hear an echo of St. Martin: “The world tells immigrants they’re worthless. We tell them they’re priceless.”

There’s legitimate debate about policies on immigration. For Catholics, the issue calls us to balance several principles of Catholic Social Teaching: the dignity of the person, the right of individuals to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families, the right of a nation to regulate its borders, and the need to balance justice and mercy in that regulation. I won’t tell anyone what conclusions to reach as they try to balance those factors. But I will urge us to approach the issue in the light of faith.

Judith McGrath, a counselor, is part of the team at St. Francis Community Services that provides bilingual mental health counseling to immigrants.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston
For instance, we should remember that the people we’re talking about are not anonymous immigrants, but Christ Himself, who will say to us: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” or “I was a stranger and you gave me no welcome.” Whatever policy we support, we should ask how the policy applies to Christ.

We might also remember that the Holy Family was forced to take refuge in another country because their homeland wasn’t safe. That’s the story of many immigrants today. Whatever policy we support, we should ask: how would it apply to the Holy Family?

Finally, we should remember that immigration is the history of most of our own families. In his encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” Pope Francis points out how God used their own history to instruct the Israelites, telling them: “You shall not oppress a stranger; you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

An interesting fact is that asylum-seeking immigrants without a lawyer prevail in only 13% of immigration cases, while those with legal representation prevail in 74% of cases. In other words, without our help, most get lost in the system. When we cut our proverbial cloak in half — putting our resources behind them — many find their way.

When it comes to immigration I hold two points very firmly. First: it’s not my role to advocate any particular policy. Second: it is my role to remind us that it’s Christ we serve at this periphery.

Resources:

Exodus 22:21; Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 24:21-22

Pope Francis, “Fratelli Tutti” (see especially 37-41, 61, 129-132)

USCCB webpage: https://www.usccb.org/committees/migration/immigration

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