The following is a statement by Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y.:
It’s no surprise that immigration issues and concerns are in the news these days, and weighing heavily on people’s minds. As a nation of immigrants, the subject feels intensely personal. As Christians, we are called to begin and end with the human person, respecting the dignity of our brothers and sisters, regardless of whether they were born in this country or not. A country has a right, and a responsibility, to secure its borders and enforce fair and just immigration laws, but, in that process, we always have to be asking ourselves if we’re welcoming the stranger, the way Christ instructed us to, and if the methods and rhetoric used are respecting the human persons at the center of these questions. Our moral duty is always to put the person first, never forgetting the wonderful gift that each one of us is to the world from the hands of our Creator.
Here in the Diocese of Albany, I have learned of some parishes and communities that are looking for resources to help immigrants. I am so heartened by this outpouring of generosity and this spirit of solidarity. Fortunately, Catholic Charities offers basic needs services through its food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters to anyone and everyone, without asking about immigration status. Similarly, these programs don’t ask about religious affiliation or lifestyle, so there should be no fear or reservation when it comes to using or referring people to these services.
Catholic Charities also operates a small immigration legal assistance program to help low-income documented immigrants petition for family members, apply for citizenship, and receive appropriate referrals for other necessary services. This program is funded by Catholic Charities and Bishop’s Appeal donations and seeks to “welcome the stranger” by providing professional assistance to immigrants and refugees with processes that may be too costly for them to afford otherwise.
Ultimately, we cannot allow fear and mistrust to override compassion for our brother and sisters or our obligation to assist strangers in need. It was not that long ago that Catholics were the subject of anti-immigration sentiment, as were many other immigrant groups that now make up the rich fabric of American culture. Not to be overlooked, too, is that many immigrants today are also Catholic sisters and brothers.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (www.usccb.org) and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (www.cliniclegal.org) offer some good resources and information as a starting point on this subject. For those who’d like to do more, there are plenty of opportunities within our local communities to build up a welcoming culture, including tutoring ESL students, assisting in local citizenship classes, or helping at a community center. It is my hope that through our parishes and service organizations and through our Catholic families and individuals alike, new immigrants will feel welcomed and loved and will experience the very best that our country and our Catholic faith has to offer — that sense of belonging we all long for and deserve.
Feb. 26, 2017