Republican Senator Marco Rubio was all over this weekend’s media platforms, talking about immigration. The need for reform is urgent, he said. The political calculus and the polls are irrelevant, he said. Good. Then let us look to the week to come with optimism that Republicans will work with Democrats to get something worthwhile done about immigration reform. Not about some abstract notion, but about the people and families who are here, looking for a better life—and contributing to the economy.
People. That was what Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas made central to his lecture last Sunday, at the Mystical Rose Oratory at Chaminade University in Honolulu. Giving the first of the university’s Mackey Lectures for the year, Bishop Kicanas spoke from first-hand experience about lessons learned from his diocese of Tucson which runs along the Arizona-Mexico border. He has testified before Congress on “the human consequences of our broken immigration system.”
It’s a human problem
Every story he told put a human face on an issue that has become the stuff of bitter political fights. It is an issue in which voices have grown more shrill, calling for “self-deportation” or as one person commenting on a news site suggested, “a nation-wide order to expel all illegal aliens from the United States.” There have been calls for electrified fences, stronger border patrols and enforcement. For “papers please” legislation.
He pointed out that we tend to speak of immigrants primarily in terms of laws that have been broken, not as people we might recognize as our neighbors. Yet the more than 200 million people on the move worldwide, fleeing war, oppression or hardship of one kind or another are doing what people have always done: looking to build lives that are better than the ones they were forced to leave behind. “They have dreams, just like us, and they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity,” he said.
Faith-based Groups Converging on the Issue
The good news, according to Bishop Kicanas, is that on the issue of immigration reform, faith-based groups seem to be finding common ground. They are advocating for comprehensive legislation that recognizes that we are dealing with real people and real families; not nameless, faceless “illegals.” But he also challenged his audience to become more personally engaged in working on the issue.
Acting on Faith
He asked: “What injustice most moves you to translate anger into action?” For change to happen, belief and conviction must translate to action. The inevitability of death should make us realize how pointless the relentless pursuit of personal wealth is. Instead, how much better a return on investment we get when we expend our energies with abandon on the causes that most move us. When we work on closing the gap between those who have more than they can use in ten lifetimes and those who can barely make ends meet in one. Because at the heart of Catholic social teaching lies this belief: “Every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ, and therefore is invaluable and worthy of respect as a member of the human family.” But that’s not what the Doctrine of Discovery says.
Will Pope Francis Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery?
Lay Catholics hope that the heightened conversation about immigration reform and the Bishops’ efforts to lend their authority to this very human challenge will also prompt the Catholic Church to repudiate a doctrine that two 15th century Papal Bulls made possible, and is still cited to this day to reject Native American claims.
Yes, we must do all we can to ensure the dignity of every person through humane immigration reform. And the Catholic church should seize this moment to disavow the Doctrine of Discovery that was used for too long to justify the enslavement and exploitation of native peoples. Pope Francis could do what Pope Benedict and his predecessors declined to do. What possible reason could there be for not repudiating this odious legacy from the past? Surely Catholic social teaching demands it?
Go to http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org if you would like to add your voice to the call for immigration reform.
The next Mackey Lecture, “Catholicism in Prophetic Dialogue” by Bishop Remi DeRoo, Bishop Emeritus of Victoria, will be held on September 28, 2013 at 8.30 a.m. in the Mystical Rose Oratory. The lecture series is free and open to all and is intended to honor the memory of Fr. Robert R. Mackey, SM (1921-1995), first president of Chaminade University.