Too Many Catholics Believe Immigration Myths, Bishop’s Official Says, Urging Church Assault To Debunk Ignorance

Too many Catholics believe immigration myths, bishops official says, urging church assault to debunk ignorance

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WASHINGTON (Catholic Online) Too many Catholics believe myths surrounding immigration and immigrants based on misinformation and misconceptions requiring the Catholic Church to respond with a comprehensive fight against ignorance, said a U.S. bishops official.

In an April 17 presentation kicking off a three-day Justice for Immigrants campaign conference here, Mark Franken, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services, stressed that if the Catholic Church is ever going to change hearts and minds it must relearn what it means to be an immigrant church and to engage the faithful through education.

Our biggest challenge is not the attacks from the immigration restrictionists, the racists, or the xenophobes, he said. Our biggest challenge is ignorance!

Too many of our fellow Catholics believe the myths: immigrants are criminals; immigrants dont pay taxes; immigrants are a drain on public resources; immigrants dont want to integrate within our society; immigrants are taking our jobs. None of these perceptions are real, Franken said, adding that for many, many people perception is fact.

Weve got to debunk the myths. Weve got to create empathy with our newest sisters and brothers. Weve got to answer the question: What would Jesus do?, he said.

More than 100 Catholic social-justice leaders, diocesan directors and others active in the USCCB Justice for Immigrants campaign gathered for the April 17 19 event, which included going to Capitol Hill and urging lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The theme of the convening, which drew participants from more than 65 U.S. dioceses and more than 35 states, was Offering Hope, Promoting Justice.

Launched in 2005, the Justice for Immigrants: A Journey of Hope campaign was created to unite and mobilize Catholic institutions and individuals in support of a broad legalization program and comprehensive immigration reform. Its goal is to maximize the churchs influence on the issue toward passage of legislative and administrative governmental reforms and to organize Catholic networks to assist qualified immigrants to obtain the benefits received from those reforms. About 80 U.S. Catholic dioceses have formally launched the campaign locally, with most of the others actively engaged in its promotion.

Retracing some of the history of immigration in the United States, Franken said that 150 years ago, in the midst of the first great wave of immigrants, the earliest Catholics to the countrys shores faced discrimination and hardship, much like todays immigrants.

He noted that then there was the Know Nothing Party, which were strongly against immigration and Catholics. But today, look around, he said, we again have a presidential candidate running on an immigration restrictionist platform.

Those earliest immigrants saw in the Catholic Church a voice to speak on their behalf and a place one could find solace to feel safe, he said. The church provided the welcome, helped educate the children and tended to the sick and elderly among the immigrants.

Yet, despite this history and the fact that the vast majority of Catholics are descendents of those earlier immigrants, many can no longer relate to the migration experience, Franken said.

I dare say that many Catholics in this country today are hostile toward immigrants, especially the so-called illegals, he said. Most represent the center of society. They hold positions of power and wealth. Thus they no longer have empathy with todays immigrants.

Catholics, like others in the general U.S. population, are split on the issue of immigration, especially as it concerns those in the country without proper authorization.

Catholics negative attitudes about immigration, Franken said, is based on misinformation and misperceptions and considerable misunderstandings.

He stated that the Justice for Immigrants campaign has been responsible for influencing the nations debate and has created a climate in which the prospects of achieving the kinds of comprehensive reforms envisioned by the bishops are possible.

The fact that bishops and other church leaders have faced hostile audiences and backlashes from those opposed to comprehensive immigration reforms has demonstrated to the immigrant communities that the church is a voice for them, the migration and refugee director said.

I am convinced that were there not this campaign, we would be facing nothing but get tougher enforcement policies and further erosion of hospitality toward immigrants, he said.

Yet, unless the church reaches through education the average U.S. Catholic in the pew with a message about welcoming the stranger, he said, we risk becoming a church divided: the growing immigrant population within the church and the others.

An educational effort in the church must be a top priority, infusing into the educational curricula of our school systems, our adult education programs, and religious formation studies the churchs teachings on migration.

Weve got to win hearts and minds, he said.

It is key to engage U.S. Catholics more broadly as well to impress upon the nation the need for more just immigration policies, Franken said.

Our adversaries, though small in numbers, are extremely vocal with their elected representatives. They are well financed and extremely well organized, he said. We cannot continue to allow members of Congress and the President to think that most Americans want to see more restrictive policies. Weve got to raise our voices louder and multiply the number of voices.

Relearning what it means to be an immigrant church means, he said, reawakening among our people a sense of solidarity with the least of our brothers and sisters.

How vibrant would our Church be if we became a more welcoming people? I can tell you this, if we Catholics in this country do not adopt more welcoming attitudes, we risk losing many people who will find this welcome elsewhere, Franken stressed.

He urged those involved in social action, peace and justice, legal, social and pastoral service providers and other leaders in the church to continue their efforts on behalf of immigrants that can revitalize the church, whose heritage is rooted in the immigrant experience.

By committing ourselves to helping all Catholics understand our faith imperatives toward migrants, we are offering them an opportunity to live out their faith, he said. I can think of no greater gift.