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 March 8, 2010   •   VOL. 48, NO. 5   •   Oakland, CA

Rally for immigration reform
LEFT: Participants with Oakland Community Organizations (OCO), Berkeley Organizing Congregations for Action (BOCA) and Congregations Organizing for Renewal (COR) rally Feb. 18 outside the Oakland office of Rep. Barbara Lee, seeking her support for immigration reform that keeps families together and creates pathways to citizenship for undocumented residents. A similar action took place Feb. 20 in Concord, organized by CCISCO (Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization). Both rallies were among the dozens occurring across the country under the leadership of PICO National Network. RIGHT: Father Jesus Nieto, pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Oakland, addresses the crowd on the importance of immigration reform. Behind him are two other organizers of the rally, the Rev. George Cummings of Imani Community Church in Oakland and the Rev. Lucy Kolin, pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Oakland.
Immigration reform
An imperative for justice and human dignity

One of the joys I have experienced since becoming Bishop of Oakland is the very rich cultural diversity of our diocese. Such diversity has always been a defining feature of our Church, theologically as well as demographically, but the Church’s mark of universality is especially evident here in the East Bay.

Bishop Salvatore Cordileone

Such diversity is also characteristic of our nation. Almost all people in this country are or have descended from immigrants. My own grandparents emigrated from Sicily. My father’s parents settled here in California (first in the Bay Area before moving south), and my mother’s parents settled in Buffalo, New York, before finding clearer skies and warmer weather in San Diego.

Like so many of you, I, too, have treasured memories of growing up Catholic in the one faith and common Catholic culture that unites us, but within the context of the particular ethnic culture of my family’s homeland.
I remain grateful to our nation for the opportunity it gave my grandparents to escape poverty and hardship and make a new life for themselves. Like so many of you, I am a beneficiary of this great legacy of the United States of America.

Unfortunately, though, there are millions of people in our country who need this same opportunity and, even though we need what they have to offer us, are effectively denied it. Out of desperation they come nonetheless; they are given jobs, but not opportunity.

Some 12 million of these brothers and sisters of ours — many in our own diocese — live in fear of deportation and separation from their families because they are here without legal documentation. Many, indeed, have been separated and suffer hardships of all kinds that remain largely invisible to the rest of us. The Church continues to stand in solidarity with them.

In early 2003, a historic pastoral letter was issued jointly by the bishops of the United States and Mexico entitled “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope” (www.usccb.org/mrs/stranger.shtml).
It was an attempt to stimulate renewed high-level discussions on the continuing human toll of current immigration policy after the hoped-for immigration treaty with Mexico was set aside in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

This pastoral letter makes a unique contribution to this discussion, laying out the principles of Catholic social teaching as they apply to immigration. When filtered down, the bishops concluded with five foundational principles which guide the Church’s view on migration issues:

• Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland.

• Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.

• Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders.

• Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.

• The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.

We can add to this another critical concern — revamping immigration policy to make it easier for families to stay together.

To say the least, things have not gotten better since this letter was issued. There have been failed starts and stops for comprehensive immigration reform, most especially in 2007.

We have now reached another critical moment in this ongoing and long overdue effort with a comprehensive immigration reform bill recently introduced into Congress once again. It is imperative that we act now to make our voices heard to ensure that a policy is reached which upholds the human dignity of all by placing the priority on justice rather than merely on economic concerns.

To aid this effort, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has re-launched the Justice for Immigrants website (www.usccb.org/jfi) and a postcard campaign. The goals of the campaign are:

• To educate the public about Church teaching on migration and immigrants;

• To transform hearts and minds;

• To empower Catholics to make a real difference in the lives of our brothers and sisters in need.
In keeping with this campaign, 10,000 postcards have been ordered for our parishes. Parishioners will be asked to sign the postcards and send them to their federal officials, asking for the passage of immigration reform. I have written to all of our pastors and parochial administrators informing them of this campaign and requesting their cooperation.

In addition, here in the Oakland Diocese we have established the Justice for Immigrants Bridge Building Workshop to educate parishioners on immigration through the lens of Catholic social teaching and to transform hearts through immigrant testimonies and self-reflection.

There is so much to learn, far more than this column could teach, and these workshops are the venue for that. They are designed to be tailored to any given parish’s particular concerns, needs and interests on the wide range of issues involved in the immigration discussion — Catholic social thought, the current state of the legislation, the plight of immigrants themselves, etc.

Through the Justice for Immigrants Campaign and Bridge-Building Workshop, we hope to foster mutual understanding between immigrants and non-immigrants and to advocate for the principles we know are necessary to promote the common good in any immigration reform policy.

The title of the bishops’ document, “Strangers No Longer,” gives us an indication of the spirit which inspired and guided its writing. The words come from Ephesians 2:19: “. . . you are strangers and aliens no longer. No, you are fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God.”

The teaching of St. Paul here regards the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. It is a vision of one people, reconciled to each other in Christ and through Christ reconciled to God the Father. It is a vision of disparate peoples who find a new peace and unity with each other through the revelation of God’s saving action.

They are, then, no longer strangers to each other, nor to those who went before them in faith and now share the fullness of life in God’s Kingdom. It is this spirit of communion and reconciliation which must guide our efforts.

The values of human dignity, solidarity and the common good are needed more urgently than ever to address the problems facing our hemisphere today. Walking together on the journey of hope means being “strangers no longer.” We must walk forward with trust in the Lord, with the vision and conviction of those who prepared for the Synod on America when they declared:

“With serene trust in the Lord of history, the Church prepares to cross the threshold of the Third Millennium freed from prejudice, hesitation, selfishness, fear or doubt, and convinced of the fundamental and primary service which she must provide as a testimony to her fidelity to God and to the people of the continent.” [Ecclesia in America, n. 75]


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