Francis on immigration

A report in Foreign Policy discusses the recent address of Pope Francis on the subject of immigration, “Pope Francis’s historic address to Congress on Sept. 24 was wide-ranging, covering topics from racial justice to the plight of refugees to the environment, but it repeatedly returned to a surprising refrain: Addressing the packed chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives, he called himself “the son of immigrants.” He reminded his audience, composed of lawmakers, Supreme Court justices, and White House officials, of the thousands who make their homes in the United States from Latin America and elsewhere. He asked them to “view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories.” He repeatedly urged his audience to “enter into” dialogue with the poor, the elderly, and, of course, with immigrants. Time and again, his words were met with standing ovations and rapturous applause”.

The report adds that “The pontiff had delivered a similar message the previous day — but before a very different audience. Addressing the United States bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C., Francis acknowledged their efforts to “welcome and integrate” immigrants. He also told them to “step back, away from the center,” and be “promoters of the culture of encounter.” In his comments, he reiterated his often-stated notion that the place of the church is on the edges of society, where it can stand up for the poor and the marginalised. Many of the bishops remain hesitant over Francis’s decision to make his central message one of mercy — of listening and being present to those not always listened to — rather than focusing on issues of sexuality. (In his address to Congress, the pope barely hinted at Catholic teachings on marriage, briefly mentioning the importance of “fundamental relationships,” before turning again to focus on the poor and vulnerable.) Some have raised the question of whether the so-called “Francis effect,” a phrase used by Catholics to describe the potential impact he might have on the global church, will ever fully take hold among American bishops. Their public perception is often one of being culture warriors, staging a long and ultimately unsuccessful campaign against same-sex marriage and battling the Affordable Care Act over access to birth control and abortion. They have alienated enough American Catholics that half of the laity have left the church at some point in their lives, and the vast majority cannot imagine returning”.

The Church, at least in the United States has little credibility on these issues and is widely ignored. Cardinal Burke’s statement that the Church can never speak enough about gay marriage not only flies in the face of what Pope Francis has said but also done little to either attract people to the Church, or persuade people to come back.

Crucially the writer notes “there is one issue on which the bishops and the pope have been able to find common ground: the importance of church outreach to immigrants. The tone and language of American bishops have often been in extreme contrast to Francis’s focus on mercy. In an interview just prior to the pope’s arrival in Washington, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco referred to same-sex marriage as “the ultimate attack of the evil one.” The conservative Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who heads the Philadelphia archdiocese where the pope will travel later this week, also opposes same-sex marriage and is known for taking a harsh tone with Catholics who disagree with him”.

Incorrectly the writer notes of Pope Benedict that “The American church hierarchy was overwhelmingly appointed by Francis’s predecessors. It is mostly white and rapidly aging. Popes John Paul II and Benedict spent much of their papacies focused on issues of the body and sexuality, and the American bishops’ theology reflects this. These bishops heard and absorbed that message and expected Francis to carry it forward, which he surely has — but not as his primary focus”.

The author goes on to mention “As the first Latin American pope, Francis has obvious appeal to Latino Catholics. The fact that he has chosen to deliver several important addresses in his native tongue demonstrates that he knows his audience. The United States is now the fifth-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. And yet, only about 3 percent of American priests identify as Latino, according to CARA, the Georgetown University center. Evangelical churches have been aggressively reaching out to Latinos for decades, and younger Latinos are almost as likely as their white peers to be religiously unaffiliated — members of the so-called “Nones.” To reverse the pull of Latinos away from the church, both the pope and the bishops must help immigrants not only feel safe, but welcomed”.

He ends “The pope has asked the American bishops for dialogue and “encounter.” Dialogue implies deep listening and meeting people where they arrive, rather than drawing a line and placing the hierarchy on one side and the people on the other. The pope modeled this encounter as he drove through the streets of Washington on Wednesday. When 5-year-old Sofía Cruz, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, made her way through the barricades surrounding the pope, he told security to “let her come to me.” She handed him a note, which began with the words, “I am [an] American citizen with Mexican roots.” It also told the pope that immigrants like her parents deserve to live with “dignity” and “respect.” Francis embraced her”.

 

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