Baltimore — The first business the U.S. bishops addressed in their annual fall meeting was making a clear statement in support of the immigrant community in the United States, the resettlement of refugees and a promise to engage the incoming Trump administration in dialogue.
The president of the bishops' conference, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., told the gathering Monday morning that as the conference is "discerning the impact" of the administration of the President-elect Donald Trump, the bishops should make a strong statement in support of "migrants fleeing danger" and "looking for a better life."
Migrants and refugees should know that "we are with you," Kurtz said. "Families will know that we carry them in our hearts as we engage the incoming administration in dialogue."
At Kurtz' suggestion, the bishops adopted by acclamation a statement that Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the bishops' Committee on Migration issued Nov. 11, three days after Trump's election.
That statement said in part: "We pray that as the new administration begins its role leading our country, it will recognize the contributions of refugees and immigrants to the overall prosperity and well-being of our nation. We will work to promote humane policies that protect refugee and immigrants' inherent dignity, keep families together, and honor and respect the laws of this nation."
"Serving and welcoming people fleeing violence and conflict in various regions of the world is part of our identity as Catholics," the statement said, adding, "The Church will continue this life-saving tradition."
*Kurtz also addressed the issue of immigration during his presidential address, relating a story about visiting with a group of undocumented minors who had entered the United States without adult accompaniment, “young men and women who were in our nation under the protective custody of the government.”
“I asked them what their dreams were,” Kurtz said. “To a person, they spoke words that would have made me proud coming from a Catholic high school senior: they wanted only to work, study and join their family.”
He said the lesson he learned from his encounter is that “Our nation is on thin ice when refugee families are spoken of in the abstract. After I met the unaccompanied youth seeking reunion with their families, the issue became very clear. Surely the situations are complex but the voiceless remain anonymous unless there is a face to the voice.”
Elizondo's statement noted that 80 Catholic dioceses engage in refugee resettlement work.
Kurtz thanked the bishops for adopting the statement. "I also want to say that we stand with our Holy Father, who has spoken very forcefully and very beautifully [for migrants and refugees] as a leader, most especially we are united as pastors."
The full statement follows:
Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle
Chairman, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration:
We would first like to congratulate President-elect Donald J. Trump and give our support for all efforts to work together to promote the common good, especially those to protect the most vulnerable among us. I personally pledge my prayers for Mr. Trump, all elected officials, and those who will work in the new administration. I offer a special word to migrant and refugee families living in the United States: be assured of our solidarity and continued accompaniment as you work for a better life.
We believe the family unit is the cornerstone of society, so it is vital to protect the integrity of the family. For this reason, we are reminded that behind every "statistic" is a person who is a mother, father, son, daughter, sister or brother and has dignity as a child of God. We pray that as the new administration begins its role leading our country, it will recognize the contributions of refugees and immigrants to the overall prosperity and well-being of our nation. We will work to promote humane policies that protect refugee and immigrants' inherent dignity, keep families together, and honor and respect the laws of this nation.
Serving and welcoming people fleeing violence and conflict in various regions of the world is part of our identity as Catholics. The Church will continue this life-saving tradition. Today, with more than 65 million people forcibly displaced from their homes, the need to welcome refugees and provide freedom from persecution is more acute than ever and our 80 dioceses across the country are eager to continue this wonderful act of accompaniment born of our Christian faith. We stand ready to work with a new administration to continue to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans. A duty to welcome and protect newcomers, particularly refugees, is an integral part of our mission to help our neighbors in need.
We pray for President -elect Trump and all leaders in public life, that they may rise to the responsibilities entrusted to them with grace and courage. And may all of us as Catholics and Americans remain a people of solidarity with others in need and a nation of hospitality which treats others as we would like to be treated.
[Dennis Coday is NCR editor.]
*The next three paragraphs were added at 5:14 p.m. eastern time.