God bless you all on this glorious Easter Sunday, marking the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, the end of death, and the beginning of eternal life for us all!
For many years, the Roman Catholic Church (and others) have joined in an appeal to "Come Home for Easter." It is a loving call to those who may have grown apart from the Church to return, perhaps to give it, or themselves, a "second chance" at faith and fellowship. We all need second chances - which God readily gives us the moment we ask Him. And in these troubled times, with a terrible scandal of child abuse to deal with, the Church needs its second chances, too. It is no more perfect than you or me, but is still an open door through which we may share in God's Presence and Love - which is perfect.
But sadly, the Church's open door and its call for the Faithful to come home is not possible for many, and I think especially of the unjustifiably-termed "illegal" Irish in the United States who cannot go home, and cannot live in freedom even in this great land of freedom. The Irish are by no means alone in this struggle for their birthright of freedom, and the Irish are not "special." All of God's Children are equal in His Loving Eyes, and likewise, the children of many nations suffer equally under immigration laws born of fear, and even hatred.
The Catholic Church is unwavering in its belief in and commitment to the rights of all immigrants; indeed, its determination has become action - especially by Bishops in the United States who have refused to obey anti-human immigration laws and ordinances, and have used their own churches as sanctuaries where these "homeless" people can be treated with the respect and love that all God's children deserve.
Why does the Church care so much about the need for the United States to reform its misguided immigration policies? The answer lies in the Church's view of itself as a pilgrim people in a pilgrim church. It sees the Holy Family, in their flight to Egypt, as the archetypal refugee family. Migrants evoke its own history, including the Biblical exodus and exile, the itinerant ministry of Jesus, and its 2,000-year missionary tradition which I am blessed to share.
That "the stranger be welcomed" is a Gospel imperative.
In "Strangers No Longer," the Church states that people have the right not to migrate; that is, they should be able to live freely in their countries of birth. However, when this is impossible, whether due to poverty or persecution, the Church believes they have a right to migrate, and nations have a duty to receive them.
Two fundamental strands of the Church's mission - protecting the dignity of all and the gathering into One all of God's scattered children - come together in its ministry to migrants and newcomers. In essence, the Church teaches that all people are "brothers and sisters," and that immigration status does not change this fact. Likewise, it offers its Catholic Charities programs, legal offices, community organizing grants, and refugee resettlement services to all vulnerable migrants and newcomers, regardless of their religious beliefs.
The Church is not a political institution, and while some think it should "mind its own business" and stay away from civil matters, it would be the height of hypocrisy for it to pretend that injustice does not exist, and to be mute in its face. The Teachings and Life of Jesus Christ will not let us join a conspiracy of silence on matters of morality and faith. We have been heard, and we will be heard.
Although God's Direction and the Church's voice are clear and unequivocal on the rights of His Children, we know as a practical matter that for political leaders, there must be compromise. A just policy will land between the extremes of either open borders or closed borders. Such is the insidious power of fear: fear that nations will be emptied or overrun, fear that jobs and security will be lost, and sadly, the fear of anyone who is not "one of us."
But in the end, our fear is no match for God's Love. Which do you suppose has the better chance of victory -- our fears, or the Will of the Great Creator of the Universe? His will be done.
It was indeed heartening, especially to those of us with our hearts tethered to Ireland, to hear President Barack Obama tell Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Brian Cowen and leading Irish-Americans that a just immigration policy was a top priority of his administration.
As Ciaran Staunton of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform put it so well, "Let this be the last generation of Irish in America that has to listen to a family member's funeral on the telephone. It is our goal that this is the last generation of Irish to be undocumented in America."
God bless you all.