By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
A large number of Mississippians continue to be affected by the recent raids and roundups of the undocumented in communities and workplaces across the center of our state by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The families directly impacted are scrambling to address immediate needs while trying to make sense over what will follow in the weeks and months ahead.
On the other hand, the grassroots response to the crisis has been rapid and far-reaching. Within two days of being set up, donations were made by individuals from 40 states on the dedicated Catholic Charities web page for donations to those affected by the raids. These donations were expeditiously tallied and prepared for distribution to the requests that inevitably will come from the families whose breadwinner(s) are sidelined. This massive response, statewide and throughout the country demonstrates the generosity of the American people on behalf of children and families in crisis due to natural or man-made disasters. It is also an indication that many Americans are concerned about our broken immigration system and desire a just and humane solution.
All honorable citizens know that respect for law is an indispensable gage of a civilized society. The laws of our nation are the fruits of nearly 250 years of striving and struggling for a more just society for all. In the case of immigration at our southern borders, the rule of law regularly is at odds with itself and the resolution appears to be on an ever-receding horizon. This is evident in the conflict among the laws of asylum, of lawful entry into our country and of birthright citizenship. It will not be easily resolved, because it has been at an impasse for three- and one-half decades ever since Ronald Reagan granted amnesty in the 1980s. But we are Americans and optimism is embedded in our DNA. Moreover, we are Christians along with people of various faith traditions, and hope springs eternal.
Another indispensable gage of a civilized society that makes it possible to pursue our inalienable rights is the security and safety that law enforcement provides on the local, state and national levels. In our nation in most locales, law and order reigns because of law enforcement and an honorable citizenry. Rightly, abuse of power and corruption within law enforcement, must always be brought to the light of day in every organization, including the church. However, respect is crucial toward those who serve in law enforcement because the chaos would be unimaginable without their presence in our communities and nation. So, thank you to the men and women, who serve the citizenry through your vigilance over our expansive shores and borders, for your active preserve on behalf of law and order in countless communities throughout the land.
Another vital gage of a civilized society is the safeguarding of religious freedom that was so esteemed by our founding elders that it was enshrined in the first amendment of the constitution. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…or the right of the people to peaceably assemble.” The wisdom embedded in the First Amendment envisions a partnership between government and religion on behalf of the common good or the general welfare.
In this spirit, at the Federal Building in Jackson on Tuesday, Aug. 13 Homeland Security sponsored an open forum sponsored by the Subcommittee for the Prevention of Targeted Violence Against Faith-Based Communities. The following is the memorandum that the Acting Secretary, Department of Homeland Security, Kevin K. McAleeman issued on May 20. “In light of the recent attacks against synagogues, churches, temples and mosques, I request you swiftly re-establish a Subcommittee under the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) focused on the security of faith-based organizations across the country. Houses of worship and faith-based non-profit organizations dedicate resources to local communities and often serve as the social and moral beacons people rely on in times of trouble. The right to practice our respective religions free of interference or fear is one of our nation’s most fundamental and indelible rights. Therefore, the targeting of violent extremists of any ideology is particularly abhorrent and must be prevented. While the Department of Justice is responsible for investigating and prosecuting attacks against faith-based institutions, DHS’s missions include preparedness, prevention, and mitigation of such attacks. In support of these missions, DHS provides information, training, exercises, and expertise on protective security measures to faith-based organizations.”
The concern over violence against faith-based communities is not political posturing at this time in our nation’s history. Just last weekend the FBI and other law enforcement colleagues averted an attack against a Jewish Community Center in Youngstown, Ohio, an hour west of the killings in the synagogue in Pittsburgh. As is the case in 80% of such threats and mass shootings, the home-grown terrorist, had his plans not been thwarted, would have been a young white male supremacist. We appear to have a growing cancer in the social fabric of our nation and faith-based communities find themselves in the crosshairs of this reckless hate.
I was grateful to be part of the panel of religious leaders who were on hand with elected officials at the national and state levels along with law enforcement from Natchez, Vicksburg and Jackson at the forum. It was informative and inspiring to hear about the concerns and hopes of the speakers and the questions of the panelists who sought to refine the discussion for the eventual report that will be published by Homeland Security next month. Without a doubt, we need to build bridges in our society for the good of all, and government and faith communities can be effective partners in addressing the pressing issues of our time.
As stated above, “houses of worship and faith-based non-profit organizations dedicate resources to local communities and often serve as the social and moral beacons people rely on in times of trouble.” As Catholic faith communities throughout the Diocese of Jackson, in close collaboration with our Catholic Charities, we are proud to be the social and moral beacons to many, in ordinary times, and in times of crisis in the aftermath of the raids and roundups. The breakdown in the social fabric of our nation would be unimaginable without the presence of faith-based communities and individuals across our nation. Let us build and rebuild together on the foundation of our nation’s strengths.
By Bishop Joseph Kopacz