FORT WORTH, Texas — While last week’s V Encuentro explored the ways in which Hispanic Catholics are both the face and future of the Catholic Church in the United States, the theme of immigration loomed large over the four-day summit.

Nearly all of the more than 3,000 attendees, have been either directly or indirectly affected by the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown, be it the decision to end DACA, the Federal program which protects undocumented individuals who arrived in the United States as minors from deportation, or through family separation measures which wreaked havoc on communities along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Also on hand for the occasion were some of the country’s most vocal bishops on immigration — many of them wearing buttons with slogans such as “We are nation of immigrants” or “Defend immigrants.”

In a series of interviews with Crux, these prelates described how:

  • The display of the diversity of Hispanic Catholics, including immigrants, at the Encuentro, represents a model for the entire country.
  • Morale among Hispanic Catholics is low due to the constant fears that they or their friends or loved ones may be deported.
  • The Trump administration’s policies continue to frustrate U.S. bishops who have long sought comprehensive immigration reform.
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez blesses pilgrims from the U.S. outside the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe July 8 in Mexico City. The archbishop, who is vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, led 102 pilgrims from the Los Angeles Archdiocese on a pilgrimage to the basilica, which houses the original tilma, or cloak, of St. Juan Diego bearing the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, who appeared to the saint in 1531. (Credit: CNS.)

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles:

Crux: You lead the largest diocese in the country, emblematic of so much of what the Encuentro wants to be in a sense of a Church that is proud of its diversity. What do you think the Church in Los Angeles can offer the larger Church in the U.S. in convincing them that integration is possible and that this should be a country and a Church that is defined by being welcoming?

I think what happens in Los Angeles is a great blessing, because we have all kinds of different ethnic communities and we’re working together. We have Masses in 42 languages, and the communities are getting to know each other and getting together in different ministries.

The process of the Encuentro was a great blessing for the people in the archdiocese and all over the country. At the cathedral in Los Angeles, we had the process of the Encuentro, with people coming together. We not only had Latinos, but we had Filipinos, Vietnamese, Anglos, everybody coming together and getting to know each other.

I think the Encuentro brings that beautiful possibility of coming together, and really that’s what happened in the archdiocese of Los Angeles because it’s so diverse. In that sense, I think the reality of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles can be useful for more people to get to know.

Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico:

Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, N.M, waves after being introduced at a bishops’ panel Feb. 24 in Phoenix at the V Encuentro gathering for Region 13. At left is Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne, Wyo., and to the right is Auxiliary Bishop Jorge Rodriguez-Pena of Denver. (Credit: CNS.)

Crux: You’re wearing a lapel pin that says “We’re a nation of immigrants.” How would you assess the morale right now among Hispanic Catholics on the issue of immigration? 

Wester: I think the morale is very low because of the fear–fears about their countries of origins and family members that may be subject to kidnapping, gangs, drug cartels, the coyotes and the terrible dangers of trying to get here, and then once they get here, getting treated with the cold shoulder, and people live in the shadows and can’t get the help they need. They’re putting a lot of money into our systems, such as healthcare, and can’t get it back out. These human beings are striving to get along and they make our country great.

We have a great country because of our immigrants and they’re not being recognized. There’s also the level of feeling rejected. That’s not who our country is, we’re bigger than that, we’re greater than that. I could never understand that given our own history, that we’re all immigrants, the lack of empathy some folks have. It’s a tough time, but we can’t let it stifle or depress us, but let it motivate us to continue to welcome the stranger in our midst and to be rooted in the Gospel. Jesus said when you did it for me, you did it for the least of my brethren, and that’s why we do it.

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio delivers remarks during the closing session Sept. 23 at the Fifth National Encuentro, or V Encuentro, in Grapevine, Texas. The Sept. 20-23 gathering brought together more than 3,200 Hispanic Catholic leaders and about 125 bishops from across the country. (Credit: CNS.)

Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller of San Antonio, Texas:

Crux: You’re a bishop in a border state at a time in which migration in the United States really needs the moral voice of the USCCB, which in recent months hasn’t been able to say much. How do we strike that balance?

I don’t think it’s a balance. We have to address all situations. Not every issue has the same weight, but there are many issues that need present attention. Not only the scandals, but the crimes, they’re very serious.

We have to give attention to them, but also to the mission of the Church: The immigrants, the elderly, education. And we need to talk about the poor. How these crimes have affected Catholic Charities, but we need to continue helping the poor, we cannot put them on a second or third place. We cannot say, “well, that will come to a second or third place.”

That is why we need to discern. So with the Holy Spirit, we will be able, together, to provide, not to provide, to bring about together a solution. In some way knowing that the Lord will do whatever we cannot do.

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas:

Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, touches the hands of people in Mexico through a border fence following Mass in Sunland Park, N.M., in this 2014 file photo. (Credit: CNS.)

Crux: This past year the bishops have made a continued push to save DACA — and of course, you were all incredibly vocal in protesting the Trump administration’s family separation policy — but on the whole, there hasn’t been much progress with working with this administration for long term immigration reform. How do you feel about where things stand on that front?

Seitz: I’m very frustrated because I think the policies that have been promoted by the administration are very contrary to the values on which our own nation were founded and they’re certainly contrary to the Gospel. It’s really a sad thing to see. We’ve always had this push and pull on immigration in the life of our country, but this turning back of the clock is something that I never would have imagined that we would come to.

To me, it’s almost like reclaiming the days when we said some people weren’t really people — they weren’t worthy of rights equal to ours and we could buy them and sell them. It’s not there but it’s getting almost to that point where we’re willing to live with a certain group of people that somehow got across the line fast enough and they’re the ones that have the power, they’re the ones that have all the opportunity, and those who didn’t get here quickly enough, it’s okay if they’re left out in the cold. When you add the fact that many of them who came, I think the vast majority of them who are running for their lives, our response as a nation has been really despicable.

Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego blesses a baby after celebrating Mass on Labor Day Sept. 2 at St. Rita Catholic Church in San Diego. (Credit: CNS.)

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego:

We’re here at a meeting with 3,000 Hispanic Catholics, and that’s your reality as a border bishop, the reality of Hispanic Catholics. What’s the Encuentro process been like for you these past four years, and what is it like to see it all come to fruition here?

McElroy: As a border diocese, we’re very heavily Mexican, as we’re so close to Mexico. We have 800,000 Hispanic Catholics, the overwhelming majority of whom are Mexican. In all different categories, we have over 150,000 undocumented people, and then people who’ve been there for generations. The enthusiasm here is what I experienced at each of the stages of the Encuentro. We’re filled with hope, enthusiasm and realism.

There was hope and enthusiasm, and also a tremendous amount of faith channeled in specific directions as to how the Church can more fully reach out to the Hispanic community, the overwhelming emphasis has been at every point on young adults, and how do we prevent the assimilation of young Hispanics in the United States and particularly in the diocese of San Diego, from becoming a second process of secularization. That is a tremendous concern for everyone.