By Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem
We have to talk about immigrants and refugees. Pope Francis from day one has been raising consciousness about the masses of immigrants, refugees, displaced people pouring into Italy and Europe as a result of wars in the Middle East and Africa. The American bishops just made a bold statement about immigration by electing as their president and vice-president two prelates of Mexican origin. Both are outspoken about immigrants and their rights. The Catholic Church in the U.S. has been quite clear about its stand on immigrants, migration and human rights.
Here in Mississippi we have as our neighbors immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America, the Middle East, India, Asia and more. They have been contributing in a big way to the economy and bringing diverse cultures and cuisines to our state. Read the Food section of The Clarion Ledger, the Jackson Free Press or whatever local paper serves your area and you see all manner of cuisine from many countries.
Immigrants work hard and give back in many ways to our state. They pay taxes like everyone else, but many cannot vote due to their immigration status. To be blunt, we Catholics have been dependent on foreign clergy keeping the church running smoothly for years, and that is not about to change. We need immigrants.
I say that because during the last 10 years or so the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA) and its allies have fought more than 280 anti-immigrant bills. We need to become aware of the vulnerable populations in our midst, especially minorities and immigrants. A new legislative session will start in January, and emboldened by the incoming administration, I believe we can expect several anti-immigrants bills.
Not a day goes by without a report of some group of immigrants or religious minorities fearful of what could happen to them. Since the election there is a report of a racial or religious attack on some group or another almost daily. We need to speak out and defend these vulnerable groups.
Catholics became numerous in the country as an immigrant church. These were mainly European, but they and their descendants built and made the Catholic Church what it is. We cannot forget our roots. We must be in solidarity with these new immigrants, regardless of their religion, in their struggle for fair treatment in this country.
We are not a church of rigid law and order. We are a church of mercy and compassion. If Pope Francis and this Year of Mercy teach us anything, let it be that. Law and order have been code words to oppress minorities whether African American or Latin Americans. The efforts Catholic Charities and other groups who support immigrants will be tested.
Then there are the refugees. Almost weekly we hear of the massive movement of refugees as great as or greater than after World War II. People don’t always pick up on that because those of us who grew up during and after WWII remember the cities flooded with European refugees and we recall the efforts to assist them. That was then.
Today the flood of refugees into Europe, and even here is generating new forms of xenophobia and racism. Neo-Nazi groups are resurrecting. It is clear where Pope Francis stands on the refugee issue. He says clearly we can do more, and do it well.
Finally, there is the fear issue. This presidential campaign was run on fear. It made vulnerable groups fearful for their safety. It made better-off groups fearful of the economy. The major issues like jobs were diverted by ginning up fear in people. When the people are afraid they turn to what will give them security. Their fear is directed to those who “are not like them” – Muslims, Jews, immigrants, African-Americans. We, as church, have to stand solidly against this.
We have always stood with the oppressed and minorities. We Catholics were once targeted, we cannot forget that. Together, as this Year of Mercy comes to a close let us make it a decade of mercy, and stand with our oppressed brothers and sisters.
(Father Jeremy Tobin, O.Praem, lives at the Priory of St. Moses the Black, Jackson.)