The immigration “issue” is not going away because immigration is more than a political issue. Every day we hear new stories of personal tragedy and families who are suffering because of our broken immigration system.
In recent months, tens of thousands of children have crossed our borders, sent by desperate parents to escape poverty and violence in their home countries.
The situation has caused chaos and conflict in our border communities and led to a humanitarian challenge to our conscience, as our government tries to decide what to do with these young people.
Here in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, we have several hundred undocumented teenagers at the naval base in Port Hueneme. They come from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, mostly.
Port Hueneme is one of several sites the government has established as temporary shelters for these children while their cases can be reviewed by our immigration courts.
Our Church has been trying to respond to this situation in a spirit of cooperation and generosity. So far, it has been frustrating trying to find ways to work with the authorities to provide pastoral care for these children. But we are continuing to try.
These are times in our Church and in our nation that call for all of us to set aside our political differences to serve our brothers and sisters in need.
No matter how they got here, no matter how frustrated we are with our government, we can’t forget that these are children of God who are also just kids. No different than our sons and daughters, our nieces and nephews and cousins.
We need to protect these children at our borders and keep them from falling into the hands of human traffickers. We need to give them guidance and warmth and a sense of welcome. No matter what, we need to remember these are innocent children who are lonely and frightened and far from home, caught up in circumstances they did not create and they cannot control.
The Church is trying to lead by example, here in California and in Texas and elsewhere.
At the national level, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged our leaders in the White House and Congress to be courageous and generous in responding to this challenge.
We all need to work together — government agencies and faith communities — for the good of these children. We cannot turn our heads and look the other way.
Our Holy Father Pope Francis this week wrote a strong letter that recalled his visit last year to Lampedusa, the tiny island off Italy that has become a sort of “border crossing” for Africans seeking refuge in Europe.
As we recall, our Holy Father chose to make Lampedusa the first place he visited outside of Italy as pope. He did this to dramatize the situation of refugees and immigrants all over the world.
In his letter this week, the pope said these problems are getting worse. He prayed for immigrants and urged Catholics especially to open our hearts to their sufferings.
“I encourage the Christian communities and all people of good will to continue to reach out and lend a helping hand to all those who are in need, without counting the cost, without fear, with tenderness and understanding,” the pope said.
We must meet the challenge of immigration, he said, “not with the logic of indifference but with the logic of hospitality and sharing in order to protect and promote the dignity and centrality of every human being.”
This week, as we pray for one another, let’s pray that we all might find the courage to care. To reach out, as our Holy Father asks us, to our brothers and sisters who are suffering, especially the most innocent among us.
This week, we are blessed to have the relics of Santo Toribio on pilgrimage in our Archdiocese. Santo Toribio was a holy priest, a friend to the poor, and a man who loved Jesus so much that he was ready to die for him. And he has become the patron saint of those who are seeking refuge in our country.
The pilgrimage of his relics will conclude with our annual Mass in Recognition of Immigrants at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Sunday, July 20, 3:30 p.m.
Let us pray that Santo Toribio and Our Lady of Guadalupe will help us all to have greater tenderness and understanding for our immigrant families and children, and especially for the undocumented young people have come to our country in recent months.
For information on the Pilgrimage of the Relics of Santo Toribio, see http://www.radiate.la/santotoribio
Archbishop Gomez’s CPA Award-winning book, “Immigration and the Next America,” is available at the Cathedral Gift Shop (www.olacathedralgifts.com/immigrationandthenextamericarenewingthesoulofournation.aspx). Follow him at www.facebook.com/ArchbishopGomez.