On Sunday, March 19, 2017, the feast of St. Joseph, Archbishop Charles Chaput, OFM Cap., ordinary of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, called a 4pm prayer service at his See, the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul. During the prayer service, he gave the following homily:
I was hoping to have a cathedral full of people who disagree with where the Church stands on immigration. However I suspect most of us here today stand where the Church stands.
Nonetheless I’m going to preach about where the Church stands, and we together can pray we can move the conversation about immigration along in that direction.
Perhaps you know the bishops and priests and deacons of the Church have a responsibility to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. This morning I got up, I faithfully entered into that prayer and read what is referred to as the Office of Readings. These readings were set for today a long time ago. God has given us this gift because of the occasion of this prayer service. The first reading was from the Book of Exodus, where Moses gave God’s plan, God’s law to the Jewish people.
In today’s Gospel we heard Jesus tell us that salvation comes from the Jews. So what Moses said to them, God is also saying to us. Here are two quotes from the Office of Readings:
- “You shall not molest or oppress the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.”
And at the end of that reading from Exodus, these words:
- “You shall not oppress an alien. You well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once an alien yourself in the land of Egypt.”
So what the Church teaches us about aliens and immigration is a command from God, which is an obligation on the shoulders of those of us who are to be Christians.
Most of us in the United States – if not all of us – have an ancestral heritage as descendants of immigrants. We are a country of immigrants, we are a Church of immigrants from the beginning to this day. Just this last week we celebrated the Feast of St. Patrick, which was celebrated with great enthusiasm by the Irish immigrants to the United States. And today and tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph, who is very close to the Italian immigrants in our Church. So today we gather together as a Church to pray and to reflect about this issue, which is a source of great division and polarization in our country today.
And as Christians we have an obligation, a serious obligation, a vocation to be concerned about justice, charity, and mercy.
The conversation about immigration concerns many people, first and foremost the immigrants themselves. Immigrants and refugees – even those here legally and for a long time – have had a steady diet of anxiety and confusion these last months. And that fear and anxiety rests in great degree in the lives of families. Parents are afraid of being separated from one another and their children. And children are afraid that when they come home from school, their parents will be gone.
On the other hand, there are some of us in the country and also in the Church who want tighter immigration restrictions. They talk about the damage done to our country by immigration in terms of work and national security.
And others of us in the Church and in the country—and I imagine that is true about most of us in this church today—have been part of demonstrations in support of immigrants. And some of us work full time in the support of immigrants and to make better the immigration system.
And in the midst of this polarization, this confusion and sometimes great anger, it’s important for us who are disciples of Jesus Christ are called to be peacemakers, to do all that we can to be a source of genuine peace in the lives of all these people. 9:30 Good people exist on both sides of this debate. And following the example of Jesus, we need to resist the temptation to demonize those with whom we disagree.
Unfortunately those who oppose immigration have weaponized this issue against others, especially against the immigrants. It’s important for those of us who are Christians to be the source of justice and the source of peace in the Church and the world. We are not just Americans. We are the Catholic Church, and we hear the words of Pope Francis:
“The Church is without borders, mother to all. It spreads throughout the world the culture of acceptance and solidarity in which no one is seen as useless, out-of-place, or disposable.”
We are the Church, but nonetheless we are the Church within the borders of this country, the United States of America. We live our faith surrounded by people who do not share our faith. It’s important for us to be faithful and important for us to evangelize so that we come to understand this issue as it is understood in the mind of Almighty God
The bishops have reflected on the issue of immigration very deeply for a very long time. And we developed principles for reflection that are based on God’s word and the dignity of human beings.
And I would like to remind you and the Church of Philadelphia of the basic principles of immigration:
- We believe that good government should welcome foreigners out of charity and respect for the human person. We believe that people have a right to emigrate when they need to find work and ways of making the lives of the family better. So this is not a neutral issue. It’s a matter of basic human rights.
- At the same time the bishops of our country believe that a country has a right to an ordered immigration process. The concerns about a secure border and the concerns about enforcement of the laws of the country are significant. They’re important. They’re not just something we can put away.
So how do we put these two basic principles together?
Well the American bishops oppose—strenuously oppose—an “enforcement only” immigration policy, and we believe it is important from the beginning to support comprehensive immigration reform. It’s not just the enforcement of laws but also at the same time a change of the laws to make them just and comprehensively faithful to the teachings of Christ.
We believe as bishops—and I think every one of you would believe the same thing—that when it comes to enforcement, it ought to be targeted: drug dealers, smugglers, terrorists, human traffickers. All of these people should be deported. No one disagrees with this.
But not families. When it comes to the enforcement of immigration laws, the family needs to be respected. We cannot separate spouses from one another. We cannot separate children from parents. We believe enforcement should be humane and proportional. We believe that respect ought to be shown to what we refer to as due process in the United States, where people’s human rights are protected and respected.
You might remember—those of us old enough to remember—that 20 years ago, immigration conflict was not experienced. And many of the immigrants who live here now without papers came at that time. And they were welcomed by the country because they provided cheap labor and work in situations where there were no laborers, who weren’t available to work. And so in some sense we ignored the enforcement and welcomed the immigrants.
And the lack of enforcement in the past makes us co-responsible together for the present, responsible with the immigrants as well as responsible for what we did in the past.
I am very proud of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and all that we have done and all that we will continue to do for immigrants. We have a history we can be proud of. Many good priests, many good women and men religious, many good lay faithful have served the lay faithful have served the immigrants, as well. And we can be very proud of our Catholic Social Services. For a very long time, we’ve had an immigration department, which is staffed by lawyers, paralegals, and others to make assistance available to those who need it. We have many case managers in various location in the archdiocese to help people, and we even have a house for unaccompanied refugee minors from Central America, especially, and from Africa.
Many communities—of religious women, especially—have been very active in immigration reform. We also have an office for refugees. Several months ago we decided to begin again, but then after the election, this effort was put on hold until we see what is going to happen in the next several months and the next several years.
The more important thing of what is done at the level of the archdiocese is what is done at your local parishes. This is the place where people are being welcome, where they are made to know they are truly our brothers and sisters and part of our family.
So it’s very important for our pastors and our parish councils—those who are responsible for the life in our individual parishes—to reflect on their approach to and embrace of the Church’s understanding of immigration.
Today’s Gospel is an interesting Gospel from the perspective of immigration. We see the encounter of Jesus Himself with the stranger. This woman, the Samaritan woman is a symbol of the Church. St. Augustine, writing about this story in the Gospel, tell us that we should see ourselves in her.
Four characteristics, five characteristics of this woman. First of all, we have to ask the question: Why did she come to the well at noon? This work is ordinarily done in the morning. Perhaps it is because she had five husbands, and the man she was living with was not her husband. So she didn’t want to show up when the other women were there.
And she was surprised when Jesus spoke to her, for several reasons. She was a woman. In that day, woman did not speak to [unrelated] men. This is still true in Muslim communities today. The Samaritans had nothing to do with the Jews. She had a different religion than Jesus. So she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And despite all of this, the Gospel tells us Jesus longed for her love. For some reason God is enchanted with us and desires us, and He invites us to see the “other,” people who are different from us in all kinds of ways as being our brothers and our sisters where we should desire to have a relationship with them.
Before the season of Lent began, we heard Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount. And Jesus used the same word we find in today’s Gospel, “thirst,” in that sermon. The notion of thirst symbolizes the deepest longings of the human person. And Jesus says to you and to me, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.” It is a characteristic of a disciple of Jesus to have passion about things that are important and necessary in life. So it’s not enough for us to accept the teachings of the Church about immigration. It’s important for us also to embrace those teachings in a passionate type of way. It’s important for not to be afraid because this is a difficult, complex, and controversial issue.
But Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman and changed her. The Gospel tells us she left her water jar, she left her old way of life. And she ran to announce the good news of Jesus to the people of her village. She was a true apostle, and we are called to do the same, to let the way of God change our way of life. Perhaps that change is to move from hostility to acceptance of the Church’s teaching, or to move from acceptance of the Church’s teaching to be apostles of the Church’s teaching in our communities, always with love and mercy and understanding. It goes both ways, to the immigrants and to those we think have a wrong opinion. But nonetheless to be apostles for change.
We ask that the dear Lord allow us who are gathered today to lead our Church to go from here to announce His good news to the Church, to the broader community, to the members of family, to all others.
So we ask the Lord in our prayer today to protect and care for the immigrants who are fearful. We can’t do very much about them. We can much more about ourselves. What we can do is commit ourselves today to become apostles of the good news of Jesus Christ.
May God bring to completion the good things He begins to move in our hearts today.