VALDEZ: Called to Love - A Catholic response to immigration

October 8, 2019

In St. Pope John Paul II’s address to World Youth Day 2002, he urged the youth to become a “new generation of builders. Moved not by fear or violence but by the urgency of genuine love, they must learn to build, brick by brick, the city of God within the city of man.”

He called the youth to be those builders and entrusted them with the difficult task of building up this civilization of love.
These words are as relevant today as they were when he spoke them. One of the most difficult challenges facing our country is the issue of immigration. Throughout the last decade the United States has seen a sharp increase of immigrants and refugees through its southern borders, and as of recent has become one of the great humanitarian crises of our time.

Newspapers and social media feeds are littered with articles and stories crafted to direct our feelings on the issue of immigration. These stories generate emotions that, all at once, tug at our hearts and, in some cases, polarize us.

The reality is we have a responsibility to the poor and vulnerable, which include immigrants and refugees attempting to migrate to the United States. The U.S. bishops have a steady stance on the issue, steadfastly supporting “the human rights of all people and offers them pastoral care, education, and social services, no matter what the circumstances of entry into this country…” (Welcoming the Stranger Among Us).

Two years ago, I had the privilege of serving with some of my students in McAllen at the Humanitarian Respite Center, run by Catholic Charities.

This center responds to the needs of immigrant and refugee families recently released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We spent three days helping facilitate the intake of families. We made sure they had access to a long-awaited shower, clean clothing, a hot meal, and a meal for the road as they continue their journey. We also made calls to relatives to ensure they had a way to get where they were going.

Each of us played a different role in the process, including one evening where I spent hours simply brushing the hair of several little girls. These children had not had their hair washed or brushed in nearly a month. Their hair was dirty, matted and in desperate need of care. These little ones didn’t even have a moment for the smallest amount of self-care, let alone time to just be children. We were able to provide services as big as calling families and as small as brushing hair. It was all grace and necessary for that moment. God calls us to love in the present moment, in the best way that we can, and to entrust the future to Him.

So why has it become difficult for us to see and respond to this great need? With the development and accessibility of technology through smartphones and social media, we have become removed from one another.

We have an increasingly difficult time encountering and communicating with people face to face. We hide behind screens and shout from keyboards rather than encounter Christ in the people we are speaking about.

People become political views rather than humans made in the image and likeness of God. We are unable to see past the political issue and look straight at the person. As Catholics, we are not necessarily called to take a side; we are called to love.

It begins with love of the other, to love the person rather than love a political stance or cultural view. We are tasked with being builders of the culture of life and not to tear down the life that God has put in front of us to help.

The Church aids us with principles and documents to guide our response to these issues, and ultimately it is centered around mercy and love.

While we may find ourselves looking at these challenges as large and out of our control, it just takes an encounter with one person “who is asking for help in order to survive, not an annoyance or a burden, but an opportunity for showing kindness and a chance for greater enrichment. (St. Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus