All one America

Today (Friday, August 23) is the feast of St. Rose of Lima, patroness of America, the first person born here to be canonized a saint. In his 1999 apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in America (the Church in America), St. John Paul II explained that he “asked that … the Synod of Bishops reflect on America as a single entity, by reason of all that is common to the peoples of the continent, including their shared Christian identity and their genuine attempt to strengthen the bonds of solidarity and communion between the different forms of the continent’s rich cultural heritage. The decision to speak of ‘America’ in the singular was an attempt to express not only the unity which in some way already exists, but also to point to that closer bond which the peoples of the continent seek and which the Church wishes to foster as part of her own mission, as she works to promote the communion of all in the Lord” (EA 5).

Thus, St. Rose is patroness of America, of which the United States is a part. Later in the document, the Polish pontiff brought up the topic of immigration. “In its history, America has experienced many immigrations. The phenomenon continues even today, especially with many people and families from Latin-American countries who have moved to the northern parts of the continent, to the point where in some cases they constitute a substantial part of the population. They often bring with them a cultural and religious heritage which is rich in Christian elements. The Church is well aware of the problems created by this situation and is committed to spare no effort in developing her own pastoral strategy among these immigrant people, in order to help them settle in their new land and to foster a welcoming attitude among the local population, in the belief that a mutual openness will bring enrichment to all” (EA 65). What was true in 1999 is also true in 2019.

He continued, “Church communities will not fail to see in this phenomenon a specific call to live an evangelical fraternity and at the same time a summons to strengthen their own religious spirit with a view to a more penetrating evangelization. The Synod Fathers recalled that ‘the Church in America must be a vigilant advocate, defending against any unjust restriction the natural right of individual persons to move freely within their own nation and from one nation to another. Attention must be called to the rights of migrants and their families and to respect for their human dignity, even in cases of non-legal immigration’” (ibid.).

The saint then exhorted us. “Migrants should be met with a hospitable and welcoming attitude which can encourage them to become part of the Church’s life, always with due regard for their freedom and their specific cultural identity. Cooperation between the dioceses from which they come and those in which they settle, also through specific pastoral structures provided for in the legislation and praxis of the Church, has proved extremely beneficial to this end. In this way the most adequate and complete pastoral care possible can be ensured” (ibid.). We do strive to do that in the Fall River Diocese, but always more can be done. 

At present many of the immigrants who live in our diocese, undocumented and documented, non-citizens and naturalized citizens, along with their U.S. born children, are experiencing a lot of apprehension, due to the climate of fear which many of them experience. The massacre in El Paso exposed the violent length to which a tiny minority might go to rid our country of their presence, but it reflects a larger minority’s negativity towards them. This minority is vocal — and also can be found amongst Catholics.

Some ask, “Well, if these people are afraid to be here, why don’t they just go home?” On page B3 of The Boston Globe on August 15 (“A demand to maintain migrants’ protected status”), several people who have Temporary Protective Status (TPS) discussed their fear of being forced to return to Central America (they were discussing this since the federal government would like to end TPS for people from several countries). 

Karla Morales Vallalobo, who was born in El Salvador, said about her country of origin, “It’s just not safe for people living there, but definitely not people who are going to be new to the community,” because of being deported from the U.S.

She added, “The gang members know people from the United States have more money, we would be a target.”

Jose Reina, also a Salvadoran native, concurred. “They know that you are there from the United States, so the first thing … when you return there is to extort you. And if you resist paying that, they can kill you or kill a family member.”

Do we want to send people back to the high likelihood of being killed? Some of these people worship with us right now. 

This is not to say that the United States has to take in every person on earth whose life is being threatened. Other countries can also help. It is the teaching of the Church that each country has the right to control its borders, while also affirming freedom of movement for people, especially so as to be able to avoid violence or to be able to provide food and shelter for themselves and their families.

Part of the solution comes from working together, poorer countries and wealthier countries, to deal with the causes of migration — the violence and poverty in the countries from which people are trying to escape. Again, this has been a constant in Church teaching.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s ambassador to the U.N. offices in Geneva, warned secular leaders in 2005, “Experience has shown that control alone is not the answer. In fact, an exclusive focus on control brings about lack of appreciation for the root causes of migration and a real risk of reducing the migrant to his or her service function, forgetting the human fundamental dimension.”

St. Rose wrote that she would love to go around “the whole world” pointing out to people “the riches” of “Divine grace ... How many riches it hides within itself, how many joys and delights.” Instead of thinking about how we can keep everything in our own possession, if we instead shared our goods and each other’s burdens, we’d be progressing along the way that Christ trod out for us.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts