National Migration Week, sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, took place at the beginning of this month, from January 5 through January 11. National Migration Week always coincides with the Feast of the Epiphany, in which Christ is revealed through the Star of Bethlehem to all the nations of the world. The Magi, representing all people, arrive from the East to pay homage to the newborn King. We celebrated a Mass on the vigil of the Epiphany at St. Ignatius Cathedral as part of National Migration Week. All were invited to this Mass and some came from our ethnically diverse parishes to commemorate National Migration Week and also to participate in a reception and information sharing session after the Mass. The theme for this year's National Migration Week was Out of Darkness."
The State of Florida has always been a home for many immigrants. Our Diocese of Palm Beach reflects this reality very well. We are rich in our cultural diversity and the number of immigrants who are part of our Diocesan family. Hispanic, Haitian, Vietnamese, Filipino, Polish, Italian and Irish are but some of the many cultures of immigrants within our Diocese. Our presbyterate as well as our deacons manifest this diversity very well. At the end of December, the US Census Bureau released statistics that show the continuing growth of Florida's population. The average growth within the nation during the period from April 2010 through July 2012 was 1.7%. However, the population of Florida grew during that period by 2.7%. According to the statistics, Florida will soon outrank New York as the third most populous state within the nation. Immigration within Florida is a significant factor in our expanding population.
Welcoming the immigrant is not only part of our nation's heritage, but also an essential aspect of our lives as followers of Christ in the Church. We are a universal Church made up of many different people, all reflecting the Body of Jesus Christ. It is incumbent upon us to not only welcome the immigrant but also to be sensitive to their many needs. Our Lord told us that when we welcome and serve the stranger, we welcome and serve Him (cf. Mt 25). The stranger can come to us in different forms, but one way in particular is that of the migrant.
In particular need of those who come to us are migrant children. They are often alone and afraid. Those without the protection of a parent or guardian are especially vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Their safety and well-being should be ensured through special care and protection afforded to them. Undocumented immigrants are also in need of assistance so that they can be brought out of darkness and afforded a legal process to integrate them into the life of our society respecting their human dignity and their ability to contribute to the well-being of society. Many refugees are left mired in refugee camps and never have the opportunity to realize the full potential of their God-given skills and talents. Long-term solutions need to be implemented to assist these men and women so they are not forced to remain in camps. Migrants are especially subject to the horrible crime of human trafficking. Treated like objects for profit rather than human beings, they require assistance to be freed from this bondage and given support to start anew. Many areas of justice need to be employed in this terrible situation.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offers many avenues of outreach to help us assist immigrants and their situations. To assist the bishops’ efforts on behalf of immigrants, learn more about the Bishops' Justice for Immigrants Campaign at www.JusticeforImmigrants.org. Our own Office of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Palm Beach offers many avenues of assistance to immigrants from legal aid to anti-trafficking programs. Learn more about the programs of our Catholic Charities office by contacting it, not only to learn more about its programs, but to assist it in its outreach.
Another migrant into this world that we must protect and welcome is that of the unborn child. January 22 marked the 41st anniversary of the tragic decision of our Supreme Court in Roe V. Wade which permitted legal abortion within our nation. An unborn child is a human person created by God in His image and likeness. God has given this person the right to come into the light of this world and we have no right to prevent it. Our nation must again recall its foundation which was to give every person a place of hope and freedom. Certainly, the most vulnerable among us is the unborn child. As we recall this tragic anniversary and join in prayer that this sad decision will be reversed, let us continue to do all we can to show respect for life for all men and women and realize that the unborn child represents the most vulnerable.
All of us are migrants. We are journeying in this world ultimately to be with God in the fullness of His Kingdom in heaven. We long for a home and that longing is an innate part of our nature. While we find homes in our families and communities, our ultimate home is only in God. The Son of God came to us and dwelt among us in order that we might find our home in Him. Jesus truly was a migrant in every sense of the word and He took our human nature to Himself so we might come to the fullness of His kingdom. We are always searching and no matter what we achieve, it never seems to completely satisfy us as we always look beyond for something new. What we are looking for is God Himself. He made us with this yearning for Himself and it will only find its satisfaction when we make our home in Him.
As brothers and sisters in the Lord, all migrants within this world and looking for our ultimate home in God, let us especially be aware of the immigrants among us and reach out to assist them so we all might be led out of darkness. It is Christ who is the Light of the World and only His Light can cast out the darkness of what prevents us from seeing Him, especially in one another.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
January 24, 2014