by Bill Scholl
Soon, over 20,000 teens will converge on Kansas City to celebrate Roman Catholicism at the National Catholic Youth Conference. The office for social justice was invited to develop and conduct one of the experiential learning exhibits.
Collaborating with the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph human rights office, and the Hispanic ministry offices on both sides of the state line, our task force has developed the Justice for Immigrants experience. Justice for Immigrants is the U.S. bishops’ national campaign to educate Catholics on how the church’s social teachings inform the immigration issue. It highlights the need for a comprehensive policy solution: fixing immigration laws so we create smarter, more humane regulations that are tempered with mercy for immigrant families already here.
The JFI experience starts with an invitation to solidarity, the Catholic teaching that we are all one human family called to a shared destiny of life in Christ. “Pin the Globe” enables teens to share their immigrant ancestry by placing the surnames of their ancestors who first immigrated to this country on a giant computer map of the Earth.
Empathy and compassion come from the ability to place oneself in the position of others. “Pin the Globe” helps us to see that we were once the immigrant. The United States is a land of immigrants, reminiscent of what we know of heaven: “All the nations will be assembled before him” (Mt 25:32).
Teens interested in learning more are invited to migrate into the exhibit. To enter, they must cross over a platform called the “Choky.” The “Choky” is a raised platform covered by a metal grate. When crossers look down, they will see they are walking over a blindfolded human being. Our nation’s broken immigration system makes us all unwitting accomplices in the exploitation of undocumented workers. In walking over them, we walk over Christ, an infant who was forced to emigrate with his family.
Upon entering the exhibit, participants are called to the immigrant’s journey by playing a game called “Immigropoly.” This game takes the player across a life-sized game board covering all the U.S.-border states. In the game, players encounter real-life scenarios that immigrants face every day. (Many of these experiences are taken from incidents shared by immigrating Catholics in our own archdiocese.)
Inside the exhibit there will also be videos and handouts that further explain the U.S. bishops’ Justice for Immigrants campaign. But probably the best lesson will come when the teens are leaving. These young Catholics will have a choice: Will they decide to cross back by way of the “Choky,” or leave in a way that does not involve walking over Christ in disguise?