by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
During the recent Christmas season, we recalled the greatest migration in human history — namely, the Son of God migrating from heaven to earth to dwell among us.
In the Nativity narrative, we were reminded that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees fleeing from the tyrannical King Herod to the safety of Egypt.
This coming Sunday, Jan. 14, the church throughout the world observes the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. I daresay that no social issue weighs more deeply on the heart of Pope Francis than the plight of migrants and refugees.
Pope Francis began his statement for this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees by quoting from the Book of Leviticus: “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (19:34).
God reminds his people of their own tragic history as migrants and refugees as the context for his command to the Israelites to welcome the alien.
The treatment of immigrants and refugees is a very timely topic in our own nation. There is less than two months for our Congress to pass legislation to afford some measure of legal status to the estimated 800,000 DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) young adults who find themselves currently in legal limbo.
For those of us whose families have lived in the United States for several generations, there is a temptation to be unconcerned about the plight of the DACA youth. God could issue to us a similar reminder to the one he gave to the Israelites, inviting us to recall the circumstances that motivated some of our ancestors to migrate to the United States.
Many, like the Holy Family, came to our nation fleeing a dangerous regime. Like the parents of the DACA youth, our ancestors wanted to protect their children from danger and death. Others came to the United States because it was impossible to provide for the material needs of their children in their homeland.
Just as today many perceive those migrating to the United States from Central and South America as a threat, so also in the past there was violent opposition to the waves of Irish, Italian, German, Croatian, Polish and other European or Asian immigrants.
From our vantage point today, we can recognize the incredible contributions our ancestors made to help our nation become a beacon of hope for freedom and opportunity.
Pope Francis in both his messages — on Jan. 1, for the World Day of Peace, and on Jan. 14, for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees — challenged Catholics throughout the world to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees.
Our Holy Father urged Catholics to advocate for generous legal immigration policies. Pope Francis called for Catholics to work for policies in their nations that protect the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees.
Similarly, the pope asked Catholics to promote migrants and refugees by helping them to achieve their full human potential.
Concretely, this means, as much as possible, providing educational and employment opportunities for immigrants and refugees. It also involves helping to promote their well-being by policies that strengthen rather than separate families.
Finally, Pope Francis differentiates integration of immigrants from assimilation. The Holy Father encourages welcoming nations to celebrate and honor admirable aspects of the native cultures of migrants and refugees, while helping them to embrace the beauty and benefits of the culture of their new homeland. The Holy Father encourages host nations to appreciate the cultural gifts that migrants bring to their new nation.
Our archdiocese has a rich history of welcoming immigrants and refugees. Catholic Charities has done an exceptional job in helping refugees and new immigrants not only to acclimate, but to thrive in their new home in northeast Kansas.
If you have never visited the Strawberry Hill Museum on the campus of St. John the Baptist Parish in Kansas City, Kansas, I encourage you to do so. It will give a quick history lesson on the many immigrant communities that have thrived and contributed to the vitality of Kansas City, Kansas.
Of course, we all need to pray for refugees and immigrants that the Lord will bless them as they attempt to integrate into a new culture and make a new home for their family. In your prayer, also ask the Lord to help you recognize opportunities to give personal support and encouragement to recent immigrants.
Finally, I encourage every member of the archdiocese to communicate with our two U.S. senators — Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran — as well as your representative in the House of Representatives and urge them to make it a priority to pass legislation that provides legal status to the DACA young adults.
For those of us whose families have had the privilege to live in this country for many generations, it would be a great gesture of appreciation for the welcome our ancestors received to help open a pathway for the immigrants and refugees of today.