As fears of deportation threaten to keep many immigrants home from a prayer service on Sunday, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia is calling on citizens and legal residents to attend the event in support.
“As a Church that herself bore the cross of hatred toward immigrants,
our Catholic past is a compelling reason to welcome the immigrants and
refugees among us today,” the archbishop said.
“These persons and families need our help. They are not strangers but
friends. And how we treat them will prove or disprove whether we take
our Christian discipleship seriously.”
A statement from the archdiocese noted that Archbishop Chaput is
planning to lead a prayer service for immigrants and refugees at the
Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul at 4:00 p.m. on March 19.
However, the statement noted, “because of recent ICE actions to
detain and deport the undocumented, immigrants may avoid the very
service intended to show them the Church’s support.”
Archbishop Chaput called on all Catholic citizens and legal residents
in the Greater Philadelphia area to attend the prayer service in a
demonstration of solidarity for the immigrant community in the region.
He also addressed the broader issue of immigration in his column for the archdiocesan paper.
“For immigrants and refugees now in the United States, or who hope to
come here in the near future, recent weeks have been a steady diet of
anxiety and confusion,” he said, pointed to the legal battle on travel
bans that has created uncertainty for those seeking to flee persecution
or be reunited with their families.
Inside the U.S., renewed deportation efforts have left children traumatized and families torn apart, he added.
The archbishop acknowledged the complexity of immigration policy,
noting that there are good people on both sides of the issue. It is
important not to demonize those who hold different views, he said,
pointing to the polarization that has been created among families,
friends and colleagues.
But true immigration reform must balance government’s duty to ensure
national security with the country’s rich history of welcoming
newcomers, particularly the oppressed, Archbishop Chaput said. “The U.S.
bishops have repeatedly called for deep immigration reform aimed at
meeting both goals.”
The archbishop outlined key ways that the Church in Philadelphia
offers social services, legal aid and pastoral care to immigrants. “The
Office for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees coordinates a network
of priest chaplains, religious sisters and lay leaders who provide for
the spiritual and material needs of persons from places like Indonesia,
Haiti, West Africa, Vietnam and Brazil,” he said.
“Our ministry to Hispanic Catholics likewise provides support for
Catholic immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America,” he
continued. “These are faith communities that enrich the devotional life
of our whole Archdiocese. We do and always will welcome all Catholics to
worship and fellowship with us, regardless of their legal status.
They’re our family in Jesus Christ, first and foremost, and being
undocumented diminishes neither their dignity nor personhood.”
Meanwhile, Catholic Social Services offers low-cost legal services to
help with visas, permanent residency documents, work authorization, and
citizenship. The organization also works in other ways to resettle
refugees, connecting them with housing, employment opportunities,
schools and medical care.
Furthermore, the U.S. bishops’ conference has offered a grant as part
of its Parishes Organized to Welcome Refugees initiative. The money is
being used to create a coalition of resources, parish-based groups and
independent Catholic organizations working to support immigrants and
Recalling that many times, “Catholics originally came to this country
as poor, often non-English-speaking immigrants seeking a better
future,” Archbishop Chaput reminded his local Church of past
discrimination against their community by the “bigoted Nativist movement
whose adherents torched Catholic churches in urban areas all along the
With this in mind, he said, it’s important to remember that those
seeking a home in the United States are God’s children in need of help
from Christ’s disciples.