Holy family reminds us of migrants’ plight

By Bishop Joseph Kopacz
With the Feast of the Epiphany we celebrated the culmination of the Christmas season, ending officially with the Baptism of the Lord this past Monday. We are well into the new year, but this past week has been noteworthy as the National Migration Week – designated such by the American Catholic Bishops for more than 25 years. Why is there such a unique commemoration at this time of year? Read on, please.
Throughout the Christmas season we celebrated, and hopefully experienced, the glory of God shining on the face of Jesus Christ. If so, we have followed in a long line for nearly two thousand years in the light of the Incarnation. Beginning with the announcement of the angels, embraced eagerly and joyfully by the shepherds, and resolutely sought by the Magi, the Infancy Narratives laid the foundation for all disciples in succeeding generations right up to the present moment. Saint Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians described this experience for all believers in the Word made flesh. “God designed it so that his light shines in our hearts in order to give us the light of knowing his glory revealed on the face of Jesus Christ.” (2Cor 4,6)
In the history of salvation that is celebrated in the Infancy Narratives the joy that breaks forth from an encounter with Jesus Christ is palpable and irresistible. When anyone encounters the mercy of God we, as women and men, discover or rediscover hope for our lives, nourishment for our hearts, minds, and souls. In turn this new life of salvation is intended to be diffused far and wide in ever increasing circles for all time in communities of faith, hope and love, of justice, peace and service in our homes and in our world.
But the story of the Nativity in the lives of Mary and Joseph also reveals the courage that is required to stay on the path of life that directs us to God in this world in the face of daunting circumstances. Beyond sentimentality and pious observances, we have a paradigm story for all families and individuals who are forced to abandon hearth and home. The Virgin Mother and Saint Joseph had to travel during the final days of her pregnancy. When they arrived in Bethlehem they received a little bit of help, and although not much, it was important. As strangers, they did not have a place to stay, and the time for the Lord’s birth was at hand. It was not the intention of Saint Luke and Matthew to dwell on the specific human concerns of the holy family, but we can imagine that midwives, who are still on hand in our time for the majority of births in our world, were certainly present to help Mary deliver, and to pick up Joseph when he collapsed on the straw.
After an arduous journey, hunger and thirst had to weigh heavily upon these strangers from elsewhere, and we are grateful for those nameless folks who provided nourishment for spirit, mind, and body. And on this feast of the Epiphany, we hear that the star led the Magi to the house were Mary and the child were lodging. Thanks to the hospitality and generosity of the locals, the holy family had a roof over their heads.
From strangers to refugees, the story continues. As soon as the three Kings departed by another route, forever changed, Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus had to flee for their lives. We know of the brutality of Herod and the slaughter of the innocents, including his own son in his lust to preserve his power. It is historically documented that when Cesar Augustus, the Emperor who had started it all in motion with his mandated census, received the news of this massacre ordered by Herod he said in amazement at such brutality, that it was better to be one of Herod’s pigs (because Jews did not eat pork) than one of his children. In that moment Jesus, Mary and Joseph were refugees who fled to Egypt where they remained for two or three years. There they received the hospitality of an unknown circle of people allowing them to live, work and mature as a family. Finally, they returned to Nazareth in northern Israel because Herod’s son was the king, and the threat of death was real.
It becomes clear that early January is an ideal time to grow in awareness at the plight of nearly 65 million in our world today who like the holy family have been forced to migrate and/or flee from hearth and home for a host of reasons. The theme for this year’s National Migration Week is taken from one of Pope Francis’ benchmark expressions, “To Create a Culture of Encounter.” Like the shepherds and the Magi, once we have encountered Jesus Christ our lives are never the same.
The goals for this week have remained the same for more than 25 years: to educate on the complex reality of migration which includes migrants, immigrants, refugees and victims of human trafficking, to encourage a culture of encounter in which Catholic communities open their hearts and hands to welcome the newcomers, not as strangers, but as members of the Body of Christ, to give thanks for the many in our society who are like those who helped the holy family.
In my travels around the diocese, and in my work at Catholic Charities, I am inspired to see the development of the sought after goals of the National Migration Week. People in the Church and throughout the state are serving the migrant communities who are here legally to pick and process the crops that we are accustomed to enjoy. Many are working to support those who have been victims of human trafficking whose stories cry out to heaven for justice and compassion.
Immigrants, documented and undocumented, are contributing significantly to the economic and social wellbeing of our State and local communities, including our parishes throughout the diocese. Catholic Charities since the aftermath of the Vietnam war in the late 70’s, in collaboration with a network of professional and compassionate people in our state, has been welcoming and serving unaccompanied refugee minors from around the world. These young people have thrived, and are now productive citizens of our country.
Putting aside the rhetoric of the recent presidential campaign and election, and the inaction and callousness of all Congresses and presidents for decades, there are many in our state and in our country who are encountering, accompanying, and befriending those who have arrived at our doorsteps. The National Migration Week is one week of 52 but it comes as the New Year dawns, and we pray that its noble goals will plant seeds and bear fruit throughout the year.
As the new year progresses we will be implementing the refreshed Mission, Vision, and Pastoral Priorities for the diocese. In harmony with the goals of the National Migration Week, I leave you with our diocesan Vision. To serve others — to embrace diversity — to inspire discipleship. May God who has begun the good work in us bring it to fulfillment on the day of Christ Jesus.

USCCB forms working group to monitor needs of migrants, refugees

By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) – The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is establishing a working group charged with developing spiritual, pastoral and policy advocacy support for immigrants and refugees.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, has named members of the working group, with the mandate of closely following developments related to immigrants and refugees in the United States. The USCCB Public Affairs Office announced formation of the group Dec. 16.
Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, will chair the group. Members include the chairmen of USCCB committees and subcommittees involved in immigration concerns: Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, Committee on Migration; Auxiliary Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Rockville Centre, New York, Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Committee on Domestic Social Development; Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, Washington, Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants; and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Committee on International Justice and Peace.
The groundwork for the working group was set during the bishops’ annual fall general assembly in Baltimore when several bishops suggested the conference closely monitor actions by the federal government that affect immigrants and refugees.
In announcing the working group, the Public Affairs Office said the bishops and USCCB staff will be ready to respond to any executive orders and legislation that the new Congress and President-elect Donald J. Trump may introduce.

People in Tijuana, Mexico, stand next to a wall separating Mexico and the United States Dec. 10. (CNS photo/Jorge Duenes, Reuters) See USCCB-WORKING-GROUP-MIGRANTS Dec. 16, 2016.

People in Tijuana, Mexico, stand next to a wall separating Mexico and the United States Dec. 10. (CNS photo/Jorge Duenes, Reuters) See USCCB-WORKING-GROUP-MIGRANTS Dec. 16, 2016.

The working group will inform the efforts of individual bishops in their pastoral responses to immigrants and refugees and recommend appropriate additional efforts as needed, such as the recent day of prayer on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago outlined some of the responsibilities of the working group in a column in the Dec. 11 issue of the Catholic New World, Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper.
He said the group will look at what is being done pastorally in U.S. dioceses and will share best practices with bishops.
“Particular attention will be given to addressing the economic struggles, alienation, fear and exclusion many feel, along with the resistance to the church’s message regarding migrants and refugees,” Cardinal Cupich wrote. “Emphasis will be given to ways we can build bridges between various segments of society.”
The working group also will spearhead advocacy, building on existing USCCB efforts, and engage constructively with the incoming administration and Congress, the cardinal said.
The formation of the new entity, which Archbishop Gomez planned to convene weekly, “will send a message to those who live in fear that the Catholic bishops of the United States stand with them, pray with them, offer pastoral support and speak prophetically in defense of their human dignity,” Cardinal Cupich wrote.
He added that the Chicago Archdiocese will continue to “walk with all who, given our broken immigration system, live in the shadows. We will advocate for them as well as for refugees seeking a better life for their families.”
National Migration Week is Jan. 8-14.

Actividades de la Semana Nacional de Migración

Durante casi medio siglo, la Iglesia Católica en los Estados Unidos ha celebrado la national-migration-week-2017-poster-470x609-cSemana Nacional de Migración, la cual es una oportunidad para la Iglesia a reflexionar sobre las circunstancias que enfrentan los migrantes, incluidos los inmigrantes, los refugiados, los niños y las víctimas y sobrevivientes de la trata de personas.
El tema de la Semana Nacional de Migración 2017, que se celebrará del 8 al 14 de enero, enfoca la atención al llamado del Papa Francisco ‘para crear una cultura de encuentro, y que al hacerlo miremos más allá de nuestras propias necesidades y deseos y veamos las de los que nos rodean. En la Diócesis de Jackson, las actividades durante la semana son las siguientes:
El domingo 8 de enero se inaugurará  la Semana Nacional de Migración con la presentación del video “Los invicibles” en la Parroquia St. James en Tupelo de 2:30 – 4:30 p.m.  El martes 10 de enero se ofrecerá un taller de inmigración y consultas legales en la Parroquia St. Matthew en Ripley de 6 – 8 p.m. La abogada de inmigración, Amelia McGowan, directora del Centro de Soporte Migratorio de Caridades Católicas en Jackson facilitará el taller y las consultas.
El miércoles 11 de enero las parroquias dedicarán la celebración eucarística a la Semana Nacional de Migración. El jueves 12 de enero, de 6 – 8 p.m. en la Parroquia St. James en Corinth se ofrecerá nuevamente el taller de inmigración y consultas legales los cuales serán facilitados por Amelia McGowan.
Para el viernes 13 de enero están organizando una noche de expresiones culturales de 6 a 8 p.m. El lugar será anunciado previamente. Para información llamar al 662-682-9992.
La clasura de la semana de actividades se realizará el sábado 14 de enero con una presentación bilingüe en la Parroquia St. James en Tupelo de 3 a 4:30 p.m. por parte de la Hermana Guadalupana del Espíritu Santo, Gabriela Rámirez, de la oficina de Caridades Católicas de la Diócesis de Birmingham, Alabama.

Consensus shows us way forward on immigration

By Archbishop Jose H. Gomez
Catholic News Service
The Catholic bishops of the United States have designated Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, as a national day of prayer for migrants and refugees.
This day of prayer comes at a time of fear, unrest and uncertainty in our country – especially for our immigrant brothers and sisters who are undocumented and their children and loved ones.
Everyone agrees that our immigration system is broken – and it has been for more than a decade. The blame cuts across party lines and we cannot find many examples of moral leadership or political courage to point to.
We are deeply concerned about the president-elect because of his drastic campaign promises regarding deportations.
But we also know that the outgoing administration has deported more than 2.5 million people in the past eight years – more than any other administration in history. And the vast majority of those deported are not violent criminals. In fact, up to one-quarter are mothers and fathers that our government is seizing from ordinary households.
That is the sad truth about immigration policy in America today. Our system has been broken for so long, our politicians have failed to act for so long that the people we are now punishing have become our neighbors.
Most of the 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. have been living here for five years or more. Two-thirds have been here for at least a decade. Almost half are living in homes with a spouse and children.
In addition, there are an estimated 1.8 million young people who were brought here as children by their undocumented parents. They are living in a kind of limbo – in many states they cannot enroll in college or get jobs.
This is the human reality of being undocumented in America. We have millions of people living on the edge of our economy and society, living in constant fear that one day without warning they will be deported and never see their families again.
And when you look into the eyes of a child whose father has been deported – and I have done that – we realize how inadequate our politics is.
Undocumented immigrants have become a kind of “scapegoat,” an easy target to blame for broader problems in our economy and society.
Many of our neighbors today rightly feel vulnerable and unprotected – they are worried about jobs, wages, the decline of their communities, the threat of terrorism, the security of our borders. We cannot simply dismiss their concerns or label them as nativists or racists, as some have. What our neighbors are worried about is real and we need to take their concerns seriously.
But undocumented workers are not the problem. The real problem is globalization and deindustrialization and what that is doing to our economy, to our family structures and neighborhoods. This is not a “white working class” issue only, as the media reports it. Whites, Latinos, Asians, blacks and others are all suffering from the breakdown of the family and the vanishing of good-paying jobs that make it possible to support a family.
Right now, we need to stop allowing politicians and media figures to make immigration a “wedge issue” that divides us. We need to come together to study these issues and find solutions.
The truth is there actually is broad public consensus on a way forward.
There is broad agreement that our nation has the obligation to secure its borders and determine who enters the country and how long they stay. There is also broad agreement that we need to update our immigration system to enable us to welcome newcomers who have the character and skills our country needs to grow.
There is even broad consensus on how to deal with the undocumented persons living among us.
Virtually every poll has found overwhelming support for granting them a generous path to citizenship, provided they meet certain requirements, such as learning English, paying some fines and holding a job that pays taxes.
These basic points should form the basis for immigration reform that is just and merciful.
We have a consensus in public opinion. What we are waiting for is politicians and media figures who have the will and the courage to tell the truth and to lead.
(Editors note: In the wake of the national elections, Catholic News Service is offering a series of columns from leading archbishops on key issues facing the church and the new Trump administration. Archbishop Jose H. Gomez is archbishop of Los Angeles.)

Election season shines light on immigration

Millennial Reflections
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.)

Migration center seeks new funding


Former and current employees of the Migrant Support Center advocate for immigration reform at the state capitol. This is just one of many ministries of the office (File photo by Elsa Baughman)

By Maureen Smith
JACKSON – The Migrant Support Center, a ministry of Catholic Charities Jackson formerly called the Immigration Clinic, files between 700-800 cases a year with a staff of one caseworker, a part-time assistant and a contract attorney. The center provides a variety of direct services to the immigrant population in the area, including family-based services to individuals seeking adjustment of immigration status, work authorization, naturalization and citizenship, as well as interpretation and translation services.
The center is now seeking new sources of funding. The grant money that started the service has run its course. Teresita Turner, the director of the center, said the center offers much-needed services with its limited resources.
“This is about more than just paperwork. This is about changing lives,” said Turner. “Seeing a family reunited that has been separated for years, seeing a woman be able to escape an abusive situation, seeing someone have an opportunity to change their life, that’s what makes this important,” she said. One of her most memorable cases involved a man with five children who came to the U.S. to work 30 years ago. He was forced to leave part of his family back home. While he was home for a Christmas visit he was kidnapped and held for months while his kidnappers tried to extort money from his family. When he finally escaped, Turner was able to get him asylum and had a case for bringing the rest of the family to protect them from future attacks.
These kinds of cases fit right in with what Catholics are called to do, according to Greg Patin, executive director of Catholic Charities. “Catholic Charities Migrant Support Center brings to life a number of the principles of Catholic social teaching,” said Patin. “Primarily, the center exemplifies the principle of the dignity of the human person. Each person is made in the image and likeness of God and does not lose their dignity because of circumstance, poverty or country of origin. We demonstrate the principle of the dignity of work – the right of all people to be co-creators with God in the world by having access to decent and productive work,” he said.
Immigration services are just the tip of the iceberg, said Turner. The center seeks to educate its clients. “We teach English, we do presentations on taxes, we explain their rights and responsibilities so they can be good citizens and participate in their communities, even if they are just here visiting or working,” she said. She has even helped translate a driver’s manual so clients can understand the rules of the road.
Her clients range from students to workers in the construction, agricultural and service industries. She ticked off a list of at least 20 countries from which her clients hail, Nigeria, Mexico, Belize, Colombia, India, and the Philippines.The list goes on and on.
New immigrant business owners generated $181 million in net income in Mississippi in 2010, according to the American Immigration Council. Foreign born entrepreneurs own more than four percent of all businesses in the state. Students are also a part of the economic picture, contributing more than $42 million to the state economy annually. The council stated that more than a third of the immigrants in Mississippi are naturalized citizens.
Many of the Migrant Service Center clients are eligible for a fee waiver from the government. Others are in the U.S. seeking political asylum or have become victims of crime. Turner has had cases of women who came to the U.S. to be with a fiancé only to discover that person is abusive.
Turner said migrants who are victimized are granted a special protected status if they cooperate with authorities. One of the families she helped was robbed four times. When they told Turner, she was able to put them in touch with the police. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and several police departments across the state have asked Turner to lead workshops or assist in their cases.
Migrants can apply for visas or green cards on their own, but the process is complicated and fraught with pitfalls. They may get all the way through the initial paperwork process, but if they have forgotten one item of documentation or misunderstand one step, they lose their chance. Simpson Goodman, the attorney for the center, said understanding their rights and responsibilities can make all the difference.
The center cannot help anyone who entered the country illegally. Those who cross illegally, said Turner, must return to their home countries and apply for entry.
Sometimes, Turner is able to refer migrants to appropriate auxiliary resources. She had one client who was homeless, had lost his green card and had mental health issues. Not only was Turner able to get his documents back in order, she was able to locate his family, who were overjoyed to welcome him home.

The center also hosts consulates from many nations. “Basically, the consul will come and we will secure a place for them and be on hand to help with paperwork so people can come renew their passports or other paperwork,” she explained.
The field of immigration is a constantly changing landscape, said both Turner and Goodman. “We have to take training constantly to stay current on laws, on who is eligible for asylum and more,” she said. This training takes time and money from the already strained budget. Turner used to have a case worker in Vardaman, but budget constraints cut that position. Now she has to travel all across the state to try and serve the growing population.
Turner said the board of directors is seeking money from corporations who rely on foreign workers, but they are also making an appeal to individuals and parishes to send the money needed to keep the doors open. “We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We strive every day to ‘welcome the stranger’ to our land,” said Patin.
Contact Michael Thomas at Catholic Charities at 601-355-8634 or michael.thomas@ccjackson.org to donate. Mention Migrant Support Services on all checks.