My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
During this National Migration Week (Jan. 6-12), the situation regarding the world population movements of migrants, refugees and displaced persons numbers about one billion people, or almost one-seventh of the world population. Truly, today the world is in motion in this globalized village in which we live.
There are many reasons why people move: some for economic reasons, others for life and safety issues. The world, however, is moving. As the global village trade crosses international lines, this encourages labor migration which follows the trend of trade. These migrations sometimes follow organized and legal patterns but often follow natural routes which are unregulated. The need for labor brings people to different countries, as well as the need for economic survival.
This week, the Church in the U.S. celebrates National Migration Week with the theme, “We Are Strangers No Longer, Our Journey of Hope Continues.” At the same time, the Holy Father’s message for World Day of Migration for 2013 has the theme, “Migrations, Pilgrimage of Faith and Hope.” The common theme is the journey, the pilgrimage which is part of the migrant’s quest.
Life itself is a pilgrimage that brings us through daily living in this world to new life. There are those whose lives seem to be an endless journey of movement from one place to another, not always willingly, but sometimes out of necessity.
Another common theme is that there is hope. Hope is belief in the object we do not see. The pilgrim, the religious pilgrim and the migrant live in hope of finding his or her goal, be it religious or material. At many times, these two goals are intermingled. Migrants, by the fact that they have left their homeland, their places of comfort and stability, or their places of conflict, all hope for something better. For the migrant, there is this constant faith that their lives could be better, that the world could be better somewhere else. This is the kernel of hope that occurs in the life of migrants.
In our own Diocese here in Brooklyn and Queens, our Catholic population is perhaps half migrant peoples and continues to grow on a daily basis. Our Diocese is well prepared since the founding of Catholic Migration Services in the early 1970s by then-Msgr. Anthony J. Bevilacqua, the future Cardinal. His insight in the founding of this agency is echoed by the message of the Holy Father’s Migration Day Message this year when he says, “Where migrants and refugees are concerned, the Church and her various agencies ought to avoid offering charitable services alone; they are also called to promote real integration in a society where all are active members and responsible for one another’s welfare, generously offering a creative contribution and rightfully sharing in the same rights and duties.”
This truly was the vision of the founding of our Catholic Migration Services. While we offer social services, they are only part of the pastoral services offered that aim at integrating our individual immigrant groups into the wider Church and society.
There are approximately 29 language apostolates that are established. Each one has a coordinator, and each one has a pastoral plan for its respective people. Our Diocese is somewhat unique in having this structure, which attends to all of the needs of migrants. However, it is far from perfect. Our goal is integration, meaning acceptance and allowing for the cultural differences to be respected. It is so difficult, especially with so many groups, to remember their individual needs and all that we do and plan as a Diocese. We do our best, yet more needs to be done to make sure that each and every migrant feels welcome and at home in the Church, which is his or her spiritual mother and in a Diocese that must make the Church come alive in this way.
In this Year of Faith, we will concentrate on our large Chinese-born population numbering approximately 380,000. Since the year 2000, the Chinese population in Brooklyn and Queens has increased by 46 percent. We have a unique opportunity here in Brooklyn and Queens for evangelization, since most Chinese-born people are non-Christian and, from our initial efforts, seem to be very open to the faith. We baptized 132 Chinese adults at last year’s Easter Vigil. I, myself, am planning a trip to China in the Spring to make some contacts and, hopefully, to see firsthand the Church in China and how we can collaborate with one another in the evangelization here in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in his message for World Migration Day, raises the question of an irregular migration as an issue, which is pressing, especially when it takes the form of trafficking and exploitation, particularly of women and children. In our own country, efforts have been made to stem the results of trafficking, which is the forced movement of people for illegal activity.
The greater problem, however, is the vast number of undocumented workers that we find here in our society. It would seem that in the next session of Congress this issue cannot be avoided and that efforts will be made to regularize those who are here and to strengthen the laws that will avoid this lamentable situation in the future.
Time and time again, I have said that the Church does not favor undocumented migration, nor does it favor unlimited migration. The Holy Father clearly states in his annual message, “Certainly every state has the right to regulate migration and to enact policies dictated by the general requirements of the common good, albeit always in the safeguarding respect for the dignity of each human person. The right of persons to migrate…is numbered among the fundamental human rights, allowing persons to settle where ever they consider best for the realization of their abilities, aspirations and plans…however, even before the right to migrate, there is need to reaffirm the right not to emigrate, that is, to remain in one’s homeland.”
Clearly, this is the aim of the Church, to improve the conditions in those countries that send migrants so that people can remain in their homelands. When this is not possible, however, and we have a need for labor, we should welcome the immigrant as one who helps to build our society. This is a delicate balance that needs to be struck, which is never easy.
Each time I write about migration, there are reactions from people mainly because this is a complex issue that is not easy to understand in its fullness. Our Church teaching, however, is clear regarding the fundamental principles in welcoming the migrants while at the same time respecting the laws of our country, which need to be adequate to regulate the migration process.
Migrants on this journey of faith and hope put out into the deep, recognizing that they will leave something they know and encounter something unknown. We join in this week of prayer for migrants that their migrant journeys will also be pilgrimages that lead to faith and deeper knowledge of the God who calls them through this life to be with him forever.