A wide range of opinions have been voiced about various executive actions last week concerning federal immigration policy in the United States. This presents a teachable moment since we have inherited a rich tradition of thoughtful reflection about society, culture, and law. Here, I would like to examine just a few elements of Catholic social doctrine concerning migration.
While it would be inaccurate to say that Jesus promoted any particular political, social or economic program, he did establish certain basic principles that should characterize any just and humane economic or political policy or course of action. Likewise, as Pope Benedict XVI noted, in the face of various social challenges, “the Church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim ‘to interfere in any way in the politics of States.’ She does, however, have a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation” (Caritas in Veritate, 9).
The role of the Church, whose primary concern is for the spiritual good of all people, is “to instruct and illuminate the consciences of the faithful, particularly those involved in political life, so that their actions may always serve the integral promotion of the human person and the common good” (Doctrinal Note on the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, 6). As taught by the Second Vatican Council, consistent with our obligation to love God and one another, the human person is and ought to be the principle, the subject and the end of all social institutions (Gaudium et Spes, 15).
When we turn to the matter of migration, we must recognize that this is a worldwide experience. All across the globe, more and more families and individuals in recent years have felt compelled to move from their home countries. Some are refugees from violence, human trafficking, political oppression or economic hardship. All seek a better future for themselves and their families. Yet, often migration leads to other problems, including harm to the family, as recognized in the recent Synod of Bishops on the Family.
This crisis of migration calls us to remember our common humanity. This is the simple recognition that we are all one human family. Before we are citizens of this nation or that we need to look at one another precisely as brothers and sisters, children of a loving God who invites us to a new relationship to one another. Thus, we each have a responsibility to work for the objective good of others, including those brothers and sisters who come from other lands. We have an obligation to protect the inherent and fundamental dignity of each person (see CCC 1897-1948).
Recognizing that “no country can singlehandedly face the difficulties associated with this phenomenon, which is now so widespread that it affects every continent in the twofold movement of immigration and emigration,” our Holy Father Pope Francis says, “It is necessary to respond to the globalization of migration with the globalization of charity and cooperation, in such a way as to make the conditions of migrants more humane. At the same time, greater efforts are needed to guarantee the easing of conditions, often brought about by war or famine, which compel whole peoples to leave their native countries” (Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2015).
The Catechism teaches that to the extent that the more prosperous nations are able, they are obliged to welcome the foreigner who seeks security and the means of livelihood which is lacking in his home country, while immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the country that receives them, to obey its laws and assist in carrying civic burdens (CCC 2241). Whatever specific policies that are enacted should reflect that.
Nonetheless, while the political dialogue on federal immigration policy goes on, there is a need for concrete action on a personal level to help our sisters and brothers in crisis. In facing a human issue of this magnitude, for inspiration we can look to Jesus Christ – his vision, his way of life, and his promise of a kingdom abounding in truth, justice, compassion, kindness, understanding, peace, and love. His Gospel challenges us to see the face of Jesus in others and envision a culture of solidarity and inclusion where the hungry are fed, the thirsty are given drink, the stranger is welcomed and the naked are clothed (Matthew 25:31-46).
We are asked to put ourselves in the place of the stranger looking for welcome. Not only is it a spiritual imperative that we see Christ and therefore ourselves in others, but it’s a historical reality as well. All of us at some point in our family history were strangers who wished to be welcomed.