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One of the great issues which has recently even more intensely gripped our nation is that of immigration reform. Our Diocese of Palm Beach is especially affected by this matter since our population is one of many immigrants. The entire state of Florida is basically comprised of those who have come here from other locations, both from within our nation and from outside our nation as well. We are especially blessed with immigrants from other countries who have become a part of our way of life and add so much to our diversity as well as to our richness of culture, economy, workforce and experiences of faith. Florida is very well known as a welcoming community where one can easily feel at home precisely because of its varied background. Questions regarding the deportation of immigrants understandably raises great fear and anxiety. The Diocese of Palm Beach has been and will continue to be a place where the immigrant can feel welcomed, at home and offered every proper form of legal assistance and counsel in remaining here.
On February 21, Pope Francis addressed words in Rome to participants of the International Forum on Immigration and Peace. This was a two-day, high-level international forum organized by the newly formed Vatican Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development in collaboration with the Scalabrini International Migration Network. The purpose of the forum was to stimulate consideration of the causes of migration and to propose appropriate solutions for an ethical approach on the management of migration as well as the integration of migrants in particular countries such as our own. Pope Francis drew attention to a particularly vulnerable group of migrants, exiles and refugees, namely, children and young people who are forced to live far away from their homelands and who are separated from their loved ones. The Pope's words are most significant for our nation at this time. His words are ones that we all keep before us as we accompany and reach out to the immigrant community so much a part of our Diocesan family and especially to those who are alarmed at the threat of deportation.
Migration is an integral part of the history of humanity. From the time of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden until today, migration has left its mark at every stage. Pope Francis emphasized how migration "is the expression of that innermost 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." It is most appropriate to reflect upon the migratory nature of God's relationship with us especially as His own Divine Son migrated from heaven in taking our human nature to Himself and coming to live among us. In His human nature, Christ experienced the human suffering of migrants in many ways including His birth in Bethlehem away from His home and His exile from Bethlehem after His birth. Christ truly is an icon for all immigrants, particularly those facing the fear of exile in isolation.
Pope Francis explained that the migratory movement which we are experiencing today is one that in many ways is very different from what has been experienced in the past. He quotes his own words from his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on August 5, 2013: "The sheer number of peoples migrating from one continent to another, or shifting places within their own countries and geographical areas, is striking. Contemporary movements of migration represent the largest movement of individuals, if not of peoples, in history." Before us is also a migratory experience very different from what many of our families experienced in coming to this country and in finding an identity.
Pope Francis indicated that our shared response to the current migration phenomenon should be addressed by four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate. His advice is one that we place before us in assuring our migrant brothers and sisters of our care for them in a manner that represents our faith as well as our heritage as the American people. While there are no easy answers to the fears and struggles that are presently before us, we continue to welcome, protect, promote and integrate those among us as part of a family.
To welcome is a basic attitude of a follower of Christ as well as of an American citizen, especially in the state of Florida. Rejection is rooted in self-centeredness at the expense of the dignity and value of every human person. The Pope emphasized how we need "to overcome indifference and to counter fears with a generous approach of welcoming those who knock at our doors." Welcoming is always the call from the Lord Himself as expressed in His words, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matt 11:28). As the Lord became one of us, in His migration from His heavenly state, He called us to Himself in order that He might bring us into His own divinity. The welcome that we offer to others is the welcome of Christ Himself. We continue to welcome our brothers and sisters to our Diocese and to our churches as we offer them the comfort of the Lord and support to their families at a difficult time.
To protect is integral to welcoming. Pope Francis restated the concern of Pope Benedict XVI that being a migrant often makes people more vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation. Such can be seen in regard to the taking advantage of migrant workers and also in the horror of the abuse of human trafficking. Protecting the migrant is a moral imperative which means advocating for laws and policies that are just, constructive and prioritized in regard to the care of all people. Certainly, in our Diocese of Palm Beach, we continue to do all we can to protect the immigrant through the legal counsel and advice available through our Catholic Charities Offices especially at this time of alarming concern. We also continue to do all we can to protect against the immoral practice of human trafficking through the effective initiatives and programs which have been undertaken through Catholic Charities.
To promote is essential because protecting is not enough. We must ensure that the migrants and their families are respected in regard to their communities of origin. Respect for their various backgrounds and their ability to live and preserve those backgrounds in a dignified and just manner are critical to our welcome and protection of our brothers and sisters from other parts of the world. Access to fundamental goods and offering all people the possibility of choice and growth as part of our family continues to remain a priority for us as members of the Church. Promotion includes concern for the country of origin of the migrant. For assistance from Catholic Charities please do not hesitate to call: (561) 345-2000.
To integrate, finally, is the respect that we have for others which does not superimpose our culture over theirs nor does it superimpose their culture over ours. As Pope Francis so beautifully states: "Integration, which is neither assimilation or incorporation, is a two-way process, rooted essentially in the joint recognition of the other’s cultural riches: it is not the superimposing of one culture over another, nor mutual isolation, with the insidious endangered risks of creating ghettos.” In our Diocese of Palm Beach we have been blessed in our churches with the expression of the faith of other cultures as well as celebrating the liturgies in different languages. At the same time, we share our expression of faith with our brothers and sisters of different backgrounds in a manner that does not put one over the other but expresses the unity of faith that we share. Especially at this difficult time of alarm within our nation, we continue to make the liturgy a source of unity where our support and concern for our brothers and sisters can be expressed in a tangible manner. We are who we are because we are many.
In this context, I would like to add another verb to those which Pope Francis referred in his talk. The verb is to pray. I do this in a manner which does not in any way suggest that Pope Francis excluded this notion in his words, but in a way that emphasizes prayer is at the core of his words. Especially during this season of Lent, we offer our prayers each and every day for our brothers and sisters who may be experiencing fear and concern at this time. Prayer is always our greatest resource and it is continually God's grace that makes the difference. We pray in a particular way that the fears and anxieties of our brothers and sisters, as well as of ourselves, may be alleviated through the healing power of Christ who became one of us. We have used prayer as the basis of our efforts at changing the laws in our nation permitting abortion. We also use prayer as the basis for our efforts at changing laws in order to make the best possible immigration policy we can have. A small prayer each day during the season of Lent will go a long way, both for the immigrant and for the system.
As Pope Francis correctly stated, the immigration situation facing the third millennium is far different from any others faced in history to this date. It is much more voluminous, varied and complex than any other. We cannot compare our times to other times and believe that the solutions of the past will work today. We need a new system, but that system must continue to be based on the foundation of what our nation is all about as a land of immigrants from its very beginning. During his presidency, John F. Kennedy called on Congress to undertake a full reevaluation of immigration law and he began to revise a book, A Nation of Immigrants, he had previously written as Senator. In that book, Kennedy emphasized the importance of immigration in the history of our nation. His words are significant for our time: "The contribution of immigrants can be seen in every aspect of our national life. We see it in religion, in politics, in business, in the arts, in education, even in athletics and in entertainment. There is no part of our nation that is not been touched by our immigrant background. Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience." The United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s has consistently called for a radical reform of our immigration law for many years. May our prayers and efforts at the present time support our immigrant brothers and sisters and bring about a much needed reform which is just for all and banishes fear.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
March 10, 2017