Few topics have so occupied the fears and attention of so many in recent months than the issue of immigration. I almost wrote “in the United States” but caught myself in time: this is a global phenomenon, which some observers state is at its worst since 1945 and the end of the Second World War. The United Nations Refugee Agency reports that there are 21.3 million refugees in the world, of which 10 million are reported as “stateless”; only 107,100 were resettled in 2015. Almost 34,000 people PER DAY are forced to leave their homes, and of those 21.3 million refugees, more than half are under the age of 18. Check out some additional statistics here.
Yesterday, Pope Francis addressed the International Forum on “Migration and Peace.” You can — and should! — read the whole text here. Immigration has been a constant concern for this Holy Father since his election (all you have to do is Google “Pope Francis and Immigration” to see his many statements on the subject), but it is also a concern he’s shared with his predecessors and, indeed, the papal magisterium is reflecting longstanding principles of Catholic social teaching. In short, the pope’s concerns are nothing new, although he has been particularly passionate in reminding the world of the moral principles involved.
In my last blog post, I repeated the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that we are supposed to be “a leaven and kind of soul” for society. This means that we are immersed in the messy dough of human existence, helping each other find God in the rising. In this post, I want to summarize and review the pope’s most recent teaching with a view toward how we might implement its provisions in our own concrete circumstances, our own doughy mess.
I should also point out that the pope has repeatedly re-affirmed the right, duty and obligation that countries have to protect their citizens. Nothing he promotes would ever deny that, although some commentators have suggested this. However, as we will see, legitimate measures to protect society at large must still take into account the moral obligations we have to all people and not simply our own citizens.
Finally, we realize that whenever any pope teaches on a volatile subject, such as immigration, reactions range from enthusiastic support to enthusiastic disagreement. This instance is no different, which critics opining that the pope has no business talking about these things. On the contrary, the pope has every obligation to address matters of faith and morals, perhaps most especially because people need to hear it even when they don’t want to, or when it makes them feel uncomfortable. Just as parents must speak truth to their children even when the children don’t like it, so too religious leaders (not only the pope!) must be prophetic even when unpopular.
THE ADDRESS OF POPE FRANCIS
The outline of the pope’s address yesterday is a powerful statement in itself. With seven major points, the pope offers an outline for pastoral action. The pope observes:
Migration, in its various forms, is not a new phenomenon in humanity’s history. It has left its mark on every age, encouraging encounter between peoples and the birth of new civilizations. In its essence, to migrate is the expression of that inherent desire for the happiness proper to every human being, a happiness that is to be sought and pursued. For us Christians, all human life is an itinerant journey towards our heavenly homeland. . . . Contemporary movements of migration represent the largest movement of individuals, if not of peoples, in history.”
Francis therefore speaks of an “urgency for a coordinated and effective response to these challenges,” a response marked by four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and integrate. After he discusses each them, he continues that we need to “conjugate these four verbs in the first person singular [‘I welcome, I protect, I promote, I integrate’] and in the first person plural [‘We welcome, we protect, we promote, we integrate’]. In this way we discover our own responsibility, our own duty, “a duty we have towards our brothers and sisters who, for various reasons, have been forced to leave their homeland: a duty of justice, of civility and of solidarity.”
Let’s take a closer look at each of these four responses with their related duties.
Francis pulls no punches, speaking of a rejection of others that is “rooted ultimately in self-centeredness and amplified by populist rhetoric.” What is needed, he says, is a change of attitude which overcomes indifference and counters fears. A changed attitude will be generous in welcoming those “who knock at our doors.”
For those who flee conflicts and terrible persecutions, often trapped within the grip of criminal organisations who have no scruples, we need to open accessible and secure humanitarian channels. A responsible and dignified welcome of our brothers and sisters begins by offering them decent and appropriate shelter. The enormous gathering together of persons seeking asylum and of refugees has not produced positive results. Instead these gatherings have created new situations of vulnerability and hardship. More widespread programs of welcome, already initiated in different places, seem to favor a personal encounter and allow for greater quality of service and increased guarantees of success.
In the first person singular, then, how am I welcoming the stranger? Not in some general, theoretical and antiseptic way, but in a concrete, leaven-in-the-dough way. In the first person plural, how do we join together in groups, parishes, and communities (and not simply in governmental ways) to initiate, support and sustain “more widespread programs of welcome”?
Pope Francis cites his predecessor, Pope Benedict, who stressed that migration makes people “more vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and violence.” Pope Francis builds on this teaching by referring to our need to protect the dispossessed:
Defending their inalienable rights, ensuring their fundamental freedoms and respecting their dignity are duties from which no one can be exempted. Protecting these brothers and sisters is a moral imperative which translates into
— adopting juridical instruments, both international and national, that must be clear and relevant;
— implementing just and far reaching political choices;
— prioritizing constructive processes, which perhaps are slower, over immediate results of consensus;
— implementing timely and humane programs in the fight against “the trafficking of human flesh” which profits off others’ misfortune;
— coordinating the efforts of all actors, among which, you may be assured will always be the Church.
Turning again to my/our personal responsibility: in what specific ways can I help in any or all of these areas of protection? Perhaps I can’t do much alone, but I can at least join my efforts with those of others. And, if there is nothing in our community, perhaps I can initiate something.
To welcome and to protect is not sufficient, according to Pope Francis, who turns to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, which describes human development as “an undeniable right of every human being.” This is not a right granted by a government or an agency, but by God.
As such, it must be guaranteed by ensuring the necessary conditions for its exercise, both in the individual and social context, providing fair access to fundamental goods for all people and offering the possibility of choice and growth. Also here a coordinated effort is needed, one which envisages all the parties involved: from the political community to civil society, from international organizations to religious institutions. . . . Efforts must be encouraged that lead to the implementation of programs of international cooperation, free from partisan interests, and programs of transnational development which involve migrants as active protagonists.
The Holy Father stresses that such rights ought first to be guaranteed in a person’s place of origin, but if they are not, people must be free it emigrate to places where they will find this opportunity. How do I work now to guarantee to rights of all persons who are here, both citizens and non-citizens alike, but all human persons created in the image and likeness of God, and all endowed with the same human rights? What could I be doing that I’m not? What could we do together, perhaps as a parish community, to contribute to this effort?
The pope teaches that integration is a two-way process “rooted essentially in the joint recognition of the other’s cultural richness: it is not the superimposing of one culture over another, nor mutual isolation, with the insidious and dangerous risk of creating ghettoes.” Those who come to a new country must be open to the culture of the new country, “respecting above all its laws.”
Citing Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis highlights the responsibility toward the family in the process of integration, citing John Paul’s message that policies must be developed that “favor and benefit the reunion of families.” In addition, again citing John Paul II, proper integration “requires specific programs which foster significant encounters with others. Furthermore: for Christians:
The peaceful integration of persons of various cultures is, in some way, a reflection of its catholicity, since unity, which does not nullify ethnic and cultural diversity, constitutes a part of the life of the Church, who in the Spirit of Pentecost is open to all and desires to embrace all.
Perhaps these last two areas are the more challenging of the four in practical application. So often, our policies regarding displaced persons involve screening and “vetting” and are less concerned (if at all) in how we might “promote and integrate” our sisters and brothers. In what concrete ways can I serve to help with this integration? Perhaps I can help with the process of reuniting families; perhaps our parish might sponsor families who have been apart, and help bring them together again.
Here is where Pope Francis challenges us all further, speaking of three duties or obligations related to welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating. These are the duty of JUSTICE, the duty of CIVILITY, and the duty of SOLIDARITY.
The pope points out:
We can no longer sustain unacceptable economic inequality. . . .We are all called to undertake processes of apportionment which are respectful, responsible and inspired by the precepts of distributive justice. . . . One group of individuals cannot control half of the world’s resources. We cannot allow for persons and entire peoples to have a right only to gather the remaining crumbs.
Justice demands that we see with God’s eyes: how does God see his children who are homeless and searching? We can do no less. How would we feel if we found our own children abandoned, abused, homeless and hungry? Suddenly those verbs of welcome, protection, promotion and integration become very personal. They are just as “personal” for God!
Furthermore, popes Francis and Benedict teach that justice challenges us to break down stereotypes:
Ensuring justice means also reconciling history with our present globalized situation, without perpetuating mind-sets which exploit people and places, a consequence of the most cynical use of the market in order to increase the well-being of the few. As Pope Benedict affirmed, the process of decolonization was delayed “both because of new forms of colonialism and continued dependence on old and new foreign powers, and because of grave irresponsibility within the very countries that have achieved independence.”
Civility means so much more than simply being “polite”! Francis again cites St. John Paul II: “an irregular legal status cannot allow the migrant to lose his dignity, since he is endowed with inalienable rights, which can neither be violated nor ignored.” Civility helps us to appreciate the value of the very relational nature of the human person in which every person is “a true sister and brother; without fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace.”
Evoking the book of Genesis, the pope reminds us of God’s question of Cain: “Where is your brother?” We are one with our sisters and brothers, and what affects her or him, affects me.
Solidarity is born precisely from the capacity to understand the needs of our brothers and sisters who are in difficulty and to take responsibility for these needs. Upon this, in short, is based the sacred value of hospitality, present in religious traditions. For us Christians, hospitality offered to the weary traveler is offered to Jesus Christ himself, through the newcomer: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).
Finally, in language easily recognizable in our contemporary Western culture, the teaches:
The duty of solidarity is to counter the throwaway culture and give greater attention to those who are weakest, poorest and most vulnerable. Thus “a change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world” (Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 5 August 2013).
So, I suggest we prayerfully consider what the pope has to say as we Americans confront the challenges of immigration policies under the current administration. In particular, how can each and every one of us — individually and communally — tale on the responsibility to welcome, to protect, to promote, and to integrate? How well can we respond to these initiatives from a sense of justice, civility, and solidarity?
Here’s the dough: let’s get our hands messy.