March 10, 2018 // Diocese

‘Migration is not just a political issue, but a spiritual one’

By Gwen McCain

How are Catholics called upon to treat the migrant? Hopefully, everyone would open their homes to friends, family and neighbors. Christ, a migrant from the inn at Bethlehem to His 40 days in the desert, compels His followers to go further and seek out the least among them. But an alternative has developed that is being loudly protested by the faithful across the U.S.; legislation and global indifference close U.S. communities and the country’s borders to the most vulnerable. In doing so, Catholic obligations are rejected.

Father Dan Groody, CSC, associate professor of theology and global affairs and director of the Global Leadership Program at the University of Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute, said Americans would “deport our own souls” with legislation that denies human dignity to immigrants. He explained:

“Migration is not just a political issue, but a spiritual one. To address the core problems, one has to go to the imagination and connect both our hearts and our heads. They are us. If we don’t have the heart to see something of us in them, then, we have deported our souls.”

The world is changing. Globalization has increased human migration: Today there are 258 million people who have emigrated from their homelands and 65.6 million forcibly displaced people. In America, the debate ricochets from DACA to refugees, and each day consensus seems harder. But some argue that the appropriate response is as clear as ever. More people must leave their homes to seek a safe and prosperous life, and the most vulnerable people exist on the margins of society as a symptom of social indifference. This is when Christ is most present. Catholics and all people of good will are called to see Christ in the immigrant and reflect His love towards them through inclusive action.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Justice for Immigrants campaign advocates for immigration reform that aligns with Catholic social teaching. In its plea to Congress, the USCCB endorses legislation that has humane and proportionate border security, provides sanctuary for unaccompanied children and ensures protections and ultimately citizenship for America’s 1.8 million “Dreamers.” The bishops emphasize the importance of family as the social foundation, as seen in family-based immigration and the diversity visa program, and want legislation that is pursued with integrity and does not bargain one piece of legislation for another, or children for their parents.

Father Groody explained that they theology of migration seeks “to see God Himself as a migrant in Jesus… who calls us to be in solidarity with everyone else on that journey, especially those who are migrating today.” Jesus ‘migrated’ to the broken, human world in poverty, and now calls it to pilgrimage with Him in pursuit of salvation. Catholicism, at its core, is about moving towards communion with God and migrating towards the kingdom of God. Because of this, it is all the more important that special care is provided for vulnerable travelers, who embody the image of Christ.

Despite this moral vision, many people still feel torn between obligations to sovereignty and to their faith. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his conception of the common good and laws, provides precedent. All laws must promote the common good, he said, and should two laws contradict, the one that does not promote the common good is invalid and should be rejected.

The Catholic bishops’ position demonstrates that current U.S. immigration laws and proposals do not promote the common good, and they have called on Catholics in the U.S. to reject such cruelty and to act within the parameters of civil engagement and the Church’s charity. “What you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,” Christ said, “you did for me” (Mt 25:40).

Not long ago, Pope Francis called for action in Lampedusa, on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, where so many refugees have died. He said, “The globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!” He likened dispassion to that of the priest and Levite as the traveler lay bleeding. The Samaritan violated his cultural norms to care for the vulnerable. People must look beyond borders and see the human suffering caused by indifference to the conditions one’s brothers and sisters are forced to live in, he said. Once injustice is clear, action can spring forth and neighbors can be protected, both at the doors of a nation and across the world. Through civic action and the Church, a culture of love and dignity can be promoted.

Dream SB, a campaign group of students from Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College and Holy Cross College, has been advocating on campus and in the South Bend community for legislators Sen. Mark Donnelly, Sen. Todd Young, and Rep. Jackie Walorski, to defend human dignity in upcoming DACA negotiations and future measures on comprehensive immigration reform. Through call-ins, prayer vigils, a march and legislative meetings with representatives, the students have made the voice of compassion and dignity heard. To support their campaign, call your legislators and sign a petition at in solidarity with the Dreamers.

Gwen McCain is a student at the University of Notre Dame.

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