I am writing this week from Modesto, where I am attending a conference sponsored by the Vatican.
It is the United States regional meeting of the World Meeting of Popular Movements. This is a project initiated by Pope Francis several years ago. It seeks to bring together Church leaders with social justice advocates, to start to build friendships and find new ways to address the challenges we face in society. Previous meetings have been in Rome and Bolivia.
I was accompanied to Modesto by Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell, and it is good to see my friends from Dolores Mission and from our local parishes and workers’ unions.
There are more than 700 people here from across the country and around the world, and the conversations that we are having are challenging and enlightening. We discussed the persistence of racial discrimination, the threats to our natural environment and the struggle for affordable housing and jobs that pay a living wage.
Pope Francis sent a special letter, which was read to us by Cardinal Peter Turkson, who is the head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. In his message, the pope talked powerfully about the need to overcome an “economy of exclusion.”
This meeting is a reminder again of the power of the Church’s social doctrine. As I have said before, the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives us a beautiful vision of human dignity and the sanctity of life. And he calls us to build a society where the good things of God’s creation are shared with all.
This is our daily task as Christians — to share our bread with the hungry, to shelter the homeless and clothe the naked, to open our hearts to the oppressed and the afflicted.
But our challenge is more than material and it is more than to offer charity to those in need. We are called to build a society of compassion and justice and truth and love. And, as the pope reminded us in his message, that means helping people to become engaged and become “protaganists” in the beautiful work of building a new society.
My own contribution during these days has been to concentrate on the issue of immigration. I had the privilege to participate in a panel discussion on migration with Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, who is a papal under-secretary for migrants and refugees in the office for Promoting Integral Human Development.
In my remarks I shared our experience here in Los Angeles, and especially the challenges we are facing with the new administration in Washington. This is a question that is on everyone’s mind — what are we doing to help our immigrant communities and our brothers and sisters who are undocumented.
And we are trying to help every day in every way possible because immigrants are not numbers, they are not statistics; they are our family.
We have been organizing parish teams and training individuals so they know their rights as immigrants. We have been helping to prepare families so they will know what to do in case they are stopped by authorities. And we are trying to mobilize immigration attorneys to help those who are detained.
We have gathered many resources for people on our website: archla.org/immigration.
I think it is important in this time for us to stick together, to draw strength from one another and to keep our eyes on Jesus.
And I think it is also important for us to keep calm and to make judgments based on facts, not politics.
Unfortunately, immigration raids and deportations are nothing new. We know that. They did not start with this new president. We need to be clear-eyed about this.
The previous president deported more people than anybody in American history — more than 2.5 million people were deported over his eight years in office. Most of these were nonviolent criminals and many of them were ordinary parents who were seized from their homes, forced to leave behind their children and their spouses.
So we need to keep that perspective. What we really need is immigration reform.
Right now there is bipartisan legislation in Congress called the “Bridge Act.” This would help hundreds of thousands of young people known as “dreamers.” We need to get that bill passed. I urge you to go to our website to learn more about it and to learn how you can help: archla.org/immigration.
We need to start there and then we need to keep working, piece by piece, until we have fixed every aspect of our broken immigration system.
We need to keep our eyes on the prize — and the prize is immigration reform and a compassionate solution for those who are undocumented and forced to live in the shadows of our society.
So pray for me this week and I will be praying for you. And let us ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to help us to continue to stand together and work to build a society where we respect the dignity of every person as a child of God.