I am writing you this week from Baltimore, where I am taking part in the annual meeting of the Catholic bishops of the United States.
This is an important gathering every year — a time for all of the Church’s bishops to pray and reflect on the challenges and opportunities we face in our pastoral ministries.
This year, of course, we have been talking a lot about the Synod on the Family that was held in Rome last month.
It is beautiful to see how the synod has inspired a new determination to walk with married couples and families and to seek new ways to encourage and support them as they seek to live the Gospel.
This week, we are discussing the challenges of the new evangelization — especially ways to communicate the joy of the Gospel to young people.
We are also talking about the influence of the Church’s social justice outreach, in particular the contribution made by Catholic Relief Services and the importance of our Catholic schools in the work of evangelization. In addition, we are making plans for celebrating the Year for Consecrated Life, which Pope Francis has declared for next year.
But among all the many issues we are discussing this week, the most urgent again this year is immigration reform.
It has been nearly a year and a half since the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive reform bill.
And since the mid-term elections two weeks ago, there is new hope that Congress and the president can come together and find common ground on the issue.
With my brother bishops, I believe that we cannot lose this moment. We cannot let another year slip by and do nothing to address this ongoing injustice in our society.
The U.S. bishops have long promoted comprehensive reform of our country’s immigration policies.
We are committed to this issue because we are a Church of immigrants. And there is no other institution in American life that does more day-to-day to promote the well-being of immigrants and refugees in our country.
So immigration reform is about the future of the Church.
But it is also a basic matter of dignity and justice for families and children. Too many families are being torn apart by deportations and long waits in our visa process. Too many men and women who are undocumented are being exploited in their places of work and forced to live in society’s shadows.
Now is the time to make new efforts and new commitment to help our leaders in Washington set aside their differences and come together to find compassionate and just solutions for the 11 million undocumented persons living in our country.
The facts are well known: most of these 11 million undocumented have been living here for five years or more. Two-thirds have been here for at least a decade.
Already we see that these men and women are following the pattern of earlier generations of immigrants.
They are learning the English language and making sure that their children grow up fluent in English. They are adopting the customs and traditions of the American way of life. They serve in our military and on local police forces. They are going to church and working alongside us, paying taxes.
As immigrants have in every generation, this new generation of immigrants promises to make us a stronger, more virtuous and prosperous America.
Sometimes it feels like we are saying the same things over and over waiting for our leaders to respond. And we have. But the Church is called to proclaim the truth “in season and out of season,” as the Scriptures say.
And our Holy Father Pope Francis is calling the Church to lead on this issue. He reminds us that immigration is not only a political issue or an economic issue. It is a test of our common humanity.
The immigrants in our midst are children of God, made in his image and likeness. As Catholics, we cannot be indifferent to their sufferings or make excuses for why we cannot help them.
We need to keep working for reform that is real and comprehensive — reform that enables our brothers and sisters to live with the dignity that God intends for them.
So this week, let’s pray for one another and let’s pray for our country. Let us pray that our national leaders will have the courage and the will to find solutions to these challenges.
And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to open our hearts wider, so that we may always reach out to those who are in need in a spirit of hospitality and sharing.
Archbishop Gomez is the author of “Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation.”