The Catholic Spirit: Immigration Sunday – Remembering Our American Inheritance

By Jessica Zittlow

On Jan. 8, 2012, the church will celebrate the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord. In years past, the Catholic Church in Minnesota has also commemorated this great feast as Immigration Sunday by dedicating it to reflecting upon the plight of those who have fled their native lands and come to us looking for sanctuary, economic opportunity, religious liberty or many of the other blessings of American life.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference continues to provide parishes that choose to observe Immigration Sunday 2012 with numerous resources dedicated to helping Catholics put their faith into action.

MCC’s website,, includes bishops’ statements, 2012 liturgy guides and ideas for parish-based activities related to the issue of immigration.

As you and your parish prepare for Immigration Sunday, MCC would like to share with you snippets from a recent address by Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez to the Knights of Columbus. Archbishop Gomez, an immigrant himself, is the chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration.

The archbishop spoke as an American citizen and also as a pastor whose flock is about 70 percent Hispanic. He reminds us that, from a Catholic standpoint, America’s founders got it exactly right. Here are some highlights from his address:

Our basic human need:

“Human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are universal and inalienable. They come from God, not governments. And these rights are not contingent on where you are born or what racial or ethnic group you are born into. The human right to life, the foundation of every other right, implies the natural right to emigrate. Because, in order for you and your family to live a life worthy of your God-given dignity, certain things are required. At minimum: food, shelter, clothing and the means to make a decent living.

“In Catholic thinking, the right to immigration is a ‘natural right.’ That means it is universal and inalienable. But it is not absolute. Immigrants are obliged to respect and abide by the laws and traditions of the countries they come to reside in.
“Catholic teaching also recognizes the sovereignty of nations to secure their borders and make decisions about who and how many foreigners they allow into their countries.

“However, we must always make sure that we are not exaggerating these concerns in ways that deny the basic humanitarian needs of good people seeking refuge in our country.”

Our American inheritance:

“Catholics — especially — bear the truth about all Americans, namely, that we are all children of immigrants.

“Our inheritance comes to us now as a gift and as a duty. At the least, it means we should have some empathy for this new generation of immigrants. For Christians, empathy means seeing Jesus Christ in every person and especially in the poor and the vulnerable.

“And we need to remember, my friends: Jesus was uncompromising on this point.

“In the evening of our lives, he told us, our love for God will be judged by our love for him in the person of the least among us. This includes, he said, the immigrant or the stranger.

“Very few people ‘choose’ to leave their homelands. Emigration is almost always forced upon people by the dire conditions they face in their lives.”

Our family:

“Many of you are fathers or mothers. So the question you have to ask yourselves is this: What wouldn’t you do to provide for your loved ones? To feed hungry mouths? To give your children a better future?

“Those are questions we all need to ask ourselves. I only want to offer one suggestion. Our perspective on this issue will change if you begin to see these ‘illegals’ for who they really are — mothers and fathers, sons and daughters — not much different from yourselves.

“They are people who are not afraid of hard work or sacrifice. They are people who have courage and the other virtues — and who value God, family and community.”

Immigration Sunday gives Minnesota Catholics an opportunity to push political debates aside and do exactly as Archbishop Gomez suggests: take time to not only welcome the stranger, but to acknowledge his or her value — as mother, father, son or daughter, as family and community member.

As we take the Advent and Christmas seasons to open our hearts and minds to the coming of the Lord, we should likewise do the same for those who are in need. We also will be working more effectively for just solutions to our broken immigration system.

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