Hispanic and Latino bishops offer hope to immigrants and migrants
by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It was a gift that was as unexpected as it was welcome.
Thirty-three Hispanic and Latino bishops issued an open letter, outlining pastoral concerns and thoughts about immigration law, to all immigrants and migrants on Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“It’s a wonderful surprise,” said Father Patrick Murphy, CS, animator for archdiocesan Hispanic ministry, on Dec. 12. “I wasn’t expecting this. . . . And I’m also happy they chose Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, to release this letter.”
The significance of the letter’s timing is that Our Lady of Guadalupe was the primary evangelizer of the Hispanic people of Mexico, said Father Pat, and her feast day is of special significance to Hispanics.
“To wake up and find out that this letter has been released by the Hispanic bishops of the United States will mean a lot to people,” he said.
In their statement, the bishops said they wanted “those of you who lack proper authorization to live and work in our country,” to know that they are not forgotten and that the church opens its arms and hearts to them.
The letter itself doesn’t contain new proposals or ideas, said Father Pat. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops previously expressed many of the thoughts and ideas in the letter.
Moreover, some of the same points that were raised by the Hispanic and Latino bishops were covered in a reflection on illegal immigration issued by the Catholic and some Protestant bishops of Kansas on Nov. 11. The reflection called for immigration reform, including an improved admission process and respect for the dignity of every human being.
The significance of the statement, however, said Father Pat, lies in the fact that so many Hispanic and Latino bishops have chosen to speak together, and that they are speaking in a very clear way.
Father Pat read the letter through the lens of what he calls “the three P’s.”
The first “p” is personal.
“When you look at the list of bishops who have signed it, it’s a long list,” said Father Pat. “They’re in a unique position. We’ve never had 33 [Hispanic and Latino] bishops [in the United States]. So, they’re in a unique position to make a very personal statement about how they feel about people who are close to their hearts. I see it as a personal way to reach out and offer a word of hope to the people.”
The second “p” is prophetic.
“[The bishops] are saying in a very clear way we need to reach out and be more welcoming to the Hispanic community,” he said. “No doubt there will be reactions. Some people will criticize them for this. . . . They’re saying the right thing; it makes sense.”
The third “p” is pastoral.
“It’s a pastoral letter, and they are expressing pastoral concerns for their people,” said Father Pat. “They’re saying, ‘We’re your pastors and we want to take care of our sheep.’ There’s a real concern [Hispanics] could be lost if they’re not offered the right pastoral care.”
The motivation behind the letter, although it is not clearly expressed, is that there is a danger of losing the future of the Catholic Church by failing to take care of migrants and immigrants.
“We’re not doing a good job,” said Father Pat. “[Hispanic] people are still leaving the Catholic Church because they still don’t feel welcome. The bishops want to say we have to do a better job of offering spiritual support of the people.”
Additionally, the message the Hispanic and Latino bishops are sending to the broader church in the United States is a reminder, that all of us — except for Native Americans — have immigrant roots, said Father Pat.
“Somewhere along the line, some priest or Sister helped us so we kept the faith,” he said.
“I think it goes back to [last Sunday’s] Gospel. As John [the Baptist] pointed to the light, we have to all be about pointing to the light and showing immigrants the light of Christ in our lives and our example and welcoming attitude.”
The next step was for the letter to be widely distributed. On Dec. 12, Father Pat sent a letter asking pastors in the 11 archdiocesan parishes with Hispanic ministries to share the bishops’ letter with their parishioners.
“People need to hear this message of hope,” he said. “It has to be heard on the local level. Most people living here don’t know these bishops. . . . They need to know that there are people out there who really care for them who are of a similar background.”