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NEW YORK – Speaking to the faithful ahead of National Migration Week, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles encouraged prayer for a society of “solidarity and compassion” that better serves the “poor and least among us.”
“My brothers and sisters, once again we are called to help our neighbors and leaders to feel compassion for the common humanity and destiny that we share with one another, including our immigrant brothers and sisters,” Gomez said. “So let us keep praying for our nation and working hard for immigration reform and let us remember to keep our lives centered on Jesus.”
Gomez, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made the comments during his homily at an afternoon Mass on Sept. 18, to commemorate the start of the U.S. Catholic Church’s National Migration Week from Sept. 19-25.
Before the Mass, held at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, 50 ministry leaders were honored for their work and support of immigrants and their families. Civic and diplomatic leaders, including the Consuls of Mexico and Guatemala were present.
Gomez celebrated the Mass, and was joined by clergy from the Dioceses of San Bernardino, Orange, and San Diego. Relics of St. Junipero Serra, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini and St. Toribio Romo – saints all of great significance to the immigrant community – were placed by the altar during the Mass.
During the homily, Gomez lamented that the nation’s immigration system hasn’t been addressed for decades, saying that “we need to pray harder for our government officials and lawmakers,” while never losing hope that immigration reform can be realized.
This year’s National Migration Week comes amid an ongoing immigration crisis in the U.S. There were more than 2.2 million migrant encounters nationwide from October 2021 and July 2022, and specifically more than 1.9 million migrant encounters at the southern border during the same span, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. Both figures well exceed the respective totals for Fiscal Year 2021 by more than 200,000.
U.S. Bishops and Catholic immigration leaders this year have consistently called for long-needed comprehensive immigration reform from Congress, and the elimination of deterrent policies at the border, mainly Title 42, that limit migrants’ legal rights to seek asylum.
They’ve also called for a pathway to citizenship for the approximate 611,000 Dreamers – undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children – and for the Biden administration to re-designate Venezuela and Syria for Temporary Protected Status, citing the ongoing humanitarian crises that exist in each country.
Another call has been for the passage of federal legislation that would provide newly arrived Afghans an opportunity to become lawful permanent residents, which would impact more than 80,000 Afghan refugees who have resettled in the U.S. since last August when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.
In a Sept. 16 statement ahead of National Migration Week, Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, the USCCB’s migration committee chair, highlighted migrants in the U.S., including Dreamers, Afghans, Ukrainians fleeing the war, TPS recipients, and undocumented agriculture workers and their “important role” in “building the future” of the United States.
“This week provides a special opportunity for encounter, accompaniment, and prayer, as well as a chance for Catholics and others of good will to join together in support of those who depend on our collective voice,” Doronsville said, adding that he hopes this week provides “a renewed sense of what it means to live as brothers and sisters, traveling together on the same journey.”
The statement follows the theme for this year’s National Migration Week, “Building the Future with Migrants and Refugees.” The theme mirrors that of the Vatican’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees on Sunday, Sept. 25.
In recent months, the immigration conversation in the U.S. has been dominated by the actions of Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott busing migrants to Democratic-led cities – Washington, D.C., New York City, Chicago – as a rebuke to President Joe Biden’s border policies. The move has led to a constant war of words between the cities’ mayors and Abbott as the cities struggle to respond to the migrants’ needs.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis got involved in Abbott’s practice last week, flying about 50 migrants in two flights to Martha’s Vineyard, an island off of Massachusetts. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced days later that the migrants were moved to a temporary shelter on the mainland that could better accommodate their needs.
Cardinal Séan O’Malley of Boston responded to DeSantis’s action on Sept. 16, focusing on the need to fix a broken immigration system that led to the present situation.
“From the Dreamers who still seek legal stability in their lives, to those fleeing war in Ukraine, poverty in Latin America and Africa, or crises in the Middle East, the call of our common humanity will be with us for years to come,” he said. “I pray we will be equal to the challenge.”
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, where Abbott began busing migrants on Aug. 31, focused his National Migration Week message on the importance of welcoming the stranger.
“As Christians, we are called to welcome the stranger, the refugee, the marginalized and displaced persons, because they are children of God,” Cupich said in a Sept. 15 statement. “Each migrant has a name, a face and a story and, as they arrive in our archdiocese, let us continue to welcome them with peace and fraternity.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg