Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The politics of migration

It amazes me that certain people who will defend the Catholic Church on just about everything have turned around and bared their teeth at the Church because of her stand on immigration -- legal and illegal. In looking at illegal immigration, all too many of the commentators, some of whom I consider friends and/or comrades in the fight against secularism, are forgetting something -- that it is Jesus Christ who is coming to us, as Mother Teresa used to say, "in the distressing disguise of the poor."

Here are some things John Paul the Great said. I quote them because so many people quote him -- and rightly so -- about a number of other issues, including abortion, nutrition and hydration and so forth. But when it comes to dealing with immigrants crossing the border without papers, they ignore what he said or downplay it. Peggy Noonan is, unfortunately, a perfect example of this. Her book on John Paul is very well done and she always talks about him as a father figure. But then her rebellious streak shows up when she writes a column like this one where she ignores what he said about illegal immigrants.

And what did he say? Here's just one example from a 1996 speech he gave:
The Church considers the problem of illegal migrants from the standpoint of Christ, who died to gather together the dispersed children of God (cf. Jn 11:52). The Church acts in continuity with Christ's mission. In particular, she asks herself how to meet the needs, while respecting the law, of those persons who are not allowed to remain in a national territory. She also asks what the right to emigrate is worth without the corresponding right to immigrate...

In the name of the same faith, [these people] often seek pastors of souls and places where they can pray, listen to God's word and celebrate the Lord's mysteries. Dioceses have the duty to meet these needs.

In the Church no one is a stranger, and the Church is not foreign to anyone, anywhere. As a sacrament of unity and thus a sign and a binding force for the whole human race, the Church is the place where illegal immigrants are also recognized and accepted as brothers and sisters. It is the task of the various Dioceses actively to ensure that these people, who are obliged to live outside the safety net of civil society, may find a sense of brotherhood in the Christian community.

Man, particularly if he is weak, defenseless, driven to the margins of society, is a sacrament of Christ's presence (cf. Mt 25:40, 45). ‘But this crowd, who do not know the law, are accursed’ (Jn 7:49), was how the Pharisees judged those whom Jesus had helped even beyond the limits established by their precepts. Indeed, he came to seek and to save the lost (cf. Lk 19:10), to bring back the excluded, the abandoned, those rejected by society.

‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Mt 25:35). It is the Church's task not only to present constantly the Lord's teaching of faith but also to indicate its appropriate application to the various situations which the changing times continue to create. Today the illegal migrant comes before us like that ‘stranger’ in whom Jesus asks to be recognized. To welcome him and to show him solidarity is a duty of hospitality and fidelity to Christian identity itself.
So the Church holds that everyone has the right to seek the betterment of their economic situation and if they have to move across international borders to do that, then they have that right to do so. But if the people migrating can’t get across the border because the other country won’t them in, what’s the use of the right to emigrate?

We as Christians have to help these people. It is a divine imperative. They are our brothers and sisters. Yes, they are breaking the law by coming across the border the way they do. But that law is man-made and can be changed. John Paul said there is something else that has to be considered – who we are and who they are in Christ.

It befuddles me that those who do not want the state interfering in the affairs of the Church on certain matters like sex abuse or divorce, are saying that the rights of the state trump the rights of the Church to take care of those who are in need.

While some may bristle at this, I would suggest that the divinely instituted Church has rights that supercede the rights of the state, which is a man-made structure. There's nothing wrong with man-made structures and I am not suggesting that the Church should be above those laws which are just. But when legislators threaten the right of the Church to care for the poor, even if those poor are in the country illegally, then the Church has every right, as Cardinal Mahoney did, to say, "We will not obey unjust laws."

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