In his 1999 apostolic exhortation, “Ecclesia in America,” Pope Saint John Paul II, wrote:
“It is appropriate to recall that the foundation on which all human rights rest is the dignity of the person. God’s masterpiece, man, is made in the divine image and likeness. Jesus took on our human nature, except for sin; he advanced and defended the dignity of every human person, without exception; he died that all might be free. […] The human being’s dignity as a child of God is the source of human rights and of corresponding duties.” For this reason, “every offense against the dignity of man is an offense against God himself, in whose image man is made.”
It is essential for us to understand that there is a substantial theological basis why the Roman Catholic Church, both universal and local, serves as an advocate and, indeed a proponent of immigrants and refugees. It is rather simple. The basis lies in God-given dignity of the human being, created in the image and likeness of God, and the rights that flow from the dignity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly explains the fact that the human being is created in God’s image and likeness:
1701 “Christ, . . . in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, makes man fully manifest to himself and brings to light his exalted vocation.”2 It is in Christ, “the image of the invisible God,”3 that man has been created “in the image and likeness” of the Creator.
1702 The divine image is present in every man. It shines forth in the communion of persons, in the likeness of the unity of the divine persons among themselves.
1703 Endowed with “a spiritual and immortal” soul, the human person is “the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake.”
1704 The human person participates in the light and power of the divine Spirit. By his reason, he is capable of understanding the order of things established by the Creator. By free will, he is capable of directing himself toward his true good.
1705 By virtue of his soul and his spiritual powers of intellect and will, man is endowed with freedom, an “outstanding manifestation of the divine image.”
The immigrant is a person, created in the image and likeness of God Almighty. The immigrant is a man, woman, a child, who is someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, child. The immigrant is a person, not a statistic, is like all of us, the face of Christ. For a true Catholic understanding of immigration, this is the essential place from which we need to start. Over the next few columns, we will investigate the biblical, historical, theological, and moral roots of the Church’s position on immigration.