SOUTH BEND, Indiana — Love is the solution to the deep divisions that trouble societies, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in his Jan. 12 keynote for a virtual conference at the University of Notre Dame.
The archbishop focused on migrants and the global refugee crisis. But he also alluded to “the violence last week at our nation’s Capitol, and the deep polarization and divisions in our country.”
His address came six days after the storming of the Capitol in Washington by supporters of President Donald Trump.
All of these problems are more than a failure of politics or diplomacy, he said: “It’s a failure of human fraternity and solidarity. It’s a failure of love.”
Gomez’s keynote “What Do We Owe the Immigrant?” reflected the conference theme: “We Belong to Each Other,” a quotation from St. Teresa of Kolkata.
He related that he has worked for over 20 years on immigration reform and advocating for migrants and refugees, and he has come to realize these issues are part of deeper questions about God and the human person, namely that God is love and has created humans in his own image “that calls us to form one human family and to live together in love as brothers and sisters.”
“Unless we believe that we have a Father in heaven, there’s no necessary reason for us to treat one another as brothers and sisters on earth,” Gomez said.
Without these truths, we can’t understand our Christian commitments to migrants and refugees, the poor, the unborn, the imprisoned, the sick and the environment, he explained. Nor can we “understand how to create a society that will be good for human beings,” and he reminded the conference that “our society has lost its bearings.”
Currently, Western nations, corporations, agencies, etc., attempt to build a global economic and political order excluding traditional Judeo-Christian principles, he continued. And when those values are lost, we lose that principle of a loving God who creates persons in his own image, and the result, he said, is “an aggressively secular society.”
“Without belief in a Creator who establishes values, we have no authority higher than our own politics and procedures,” he explained. “We are left with no solid foundation for our commitments to human dignity, freedom, equality, and fraternity.”
This “crisis of truth” causes many hardships and injustices in society, he said; but we Christians know the truth and should proclaim it.
“We need to tell them the good news that we are all children of God, that there is a greatness to human life,” the archbishop said. “That every one of us is created in God’s image, endowed with God-given rights and responsibilities, and called to a transcendent destiny.”
Referring to the current national turmoil, Gomez stressed that “we have an urgent duty in this moment to bear witness to the truth. … This beautiful truth about God and the human person is the key to healing and reconciliation; it’s the way forward, the way we can come together as one nation under God.”
By serving our neighbors and caring for each other, particularly the weak and vulnerable, he concluded, “We can change our country and we can change the world. We can help our neighbors to know this God, and to know his love.”
In a question-and-answer session after his keynote, Gomez said he wants people to “love God and recognize that immigration is not a problem: It’s something good.” And he stressed that immigrants are an asset to society, bringing unique talents, gifts and aspirations that enrich all of us.
“They aren’t coming to take our places; they are coming to participate,” he said.
Responding to a question about how to understand migrants as our brothers and sisters when they come from so many different places, Gomez compared a migrant to a college freshman who is unfamiliar with the place or the people. But, as he gets to know the place and the people get to know him, those differences and uncertainties fade.
This likewise happens in cities, neighborhoods, parishes and the workplace, he said, when we get to know migrants.
He also stressed that the United States should continue to help make life better for people all over the world, for most people prefer to stay in their own country but have difficulty surviving there, or even are forcibly removed. Thus, it is important to understand the movement of peoples, and if we can welcome and help migrants, we may make it possible for them to fulfill their desire to return to their own countries.
The archbishop acknowledged that all countries have a right to control their borders, and the United States needs to find a way for people who want to come to this country to do so legally.
Clarifying this point “helps people to calm down and just get it done,” Archbishop Gomez added.
Notre Dame’s Jan. 12-14 conference was sponsored by the university’s de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.