Crossing Borders: Catholic Social Teaching and Immigration
Newman Eberhardt Lecture
Saint John's Seminary, Camarillo
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony
Archbishop of Los
I am delighted to be here at St. John's Seminary for the 2006
Newman Eberhardt Lecture. I want to thank the Rector of St. John's Seminary,
Monsignor Helmut Hefner, and the Academic Dean, Vincentian Father Richard
Benson, for the invitation to deliver these remarks this evening. My gratitude
goes to the entire faculty for your work to ensure an environment to form and
train future leaders of the Church. To all the seminarians: it is always a joy
to be here and to walk with you as you prepare for service to the Church.
Finally, to all gathered here this evening, I thank you for the support you
offer to this institution dedicated to forming Church leaders with purpose and
This year, immigration reform has been a central topic of
discussion and debate. Once again, our Church has been in the middle of this
debate -- for this I am both grateful and pleased. Tonight, I want to use
immigration reform as a lens to examine the Church's social teaching and social
The Catholic Church is one of the first global institutions.
Long before the term "globalization" became part of our lexicon, the Church
through its organizations and institutions established a global mission to bring
the Good News of Christ to the world. As a global entity, the Church's
membership represents the vast diversity of all God's creation -- rich and poor;
urban, rural and suburban; industrialized nations and developing countries;
indeed virtually every ethnic and racial group. This global presence puts us in
direct contact with the lives, stories and aspirations -- of the entire human
family. It is the breadth and depth of this reach that allows us to be attuned
to what Gaudium et spes describes as "the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the
anxieties of the men (and women) of this age."
This global presence
and diverse constituency demands that the Church constantly adapt and respond to
changing environments, including the changing face of Catholics in our pews.
Over the past forty years, the profile of the Catholic Church in the United
States has been transformed with the growth of immigrant communities,
particularly the Hispanic population. Today, nearly 40 percent of Catholics in
the United States are Hispanic, and close to three-quarters of Hispanics are
Catholic. Hispanics account for nearly 71 percent of the growth in the Church
since 1960. Of singular significance is the fact that the Hispanic population is
relatively young with 35 percent between the ages of 15 and 25. Approximately 40
percent of Hispanics currently residing in the United States are
These demographics require the Church to give shape
to new and expanded pastoral responses to meet the pressing needs of those newly
arrived, and for those who are in various stages of assimilation into the
economic, political, and social life of this country. For the Church to continue
as a key institutional touchstone for this growing population, it must remain
responsive to the concrete realities, the pressing needs of the people of our
own time. Certainly this means attending to the Sacramental needs of newcomers.
But it also requires that we be a clear and compelling sacrament of Christ's
presence in the world -- feeding the body as well as the soul.
What does this entail? More and more we encounter people in
our parishes who are foreign-born, newly-arrived and without documentation --
that is, without legal status to reside in the United States. We hear stories of
parents who leave their families and friends behind in search of jobs. We learn
of loved ones who are unaccounted for, lost in their journey here, many
perishing in the desert on the lonely trek north. The storyline of the movie El
Norte that premiered in 1983, and portrayed the dangerous and arduous journey of
immigrants destined for the United States is, unfortunately, still true today.
These tragic tales are part of the Catholic experience in the United States in
the early part of the twenty-first century.
In the face of this growing problem, pastoral programs and
ministerial outreach are essential. But they are not sufficient in themselves.
The Church must also respond in the political realm in the form of advocacy in
local communities, State legislatures and Congress, in order to ensure that our
nation's immigration laws uphold human dignity, protect human life and meet
It is in this light that the Catholic Bishops initiated the
Justice for Immigrants Campaign in 2005. We did this in order to focus our
advocacy efforts, to coordinate various programs on a national and Diocesan
level, and to raise the awareness of the Catholic faithful about the dynamics
underpinning the national immigration debate. The message underlying this
campaign is that we cannot offer pastoral support to immigrant communities
without working to correct the injustices they confront in their everyday lives,
helping them to integrate and assimilate to their new home, and addressing the
root causes of migration in their home countries.
This pastoral task is not much different than at other times
in the Church's life in this country, such as when Catholic immigrants from
Europe -- mostly Irish, Italian, German, and Polish immigrants -- came in search
of better lives and looked to the Catholic Church for assistance in their
spiritual, material, and legal needs. Their work, culture, and other
contributions helped build this country into a strong and vibrant
The political task before us now, however, is in many ways
more daunting. Unfortunately, public discourse on this topic is marked by
divisive rhetoric and sound bites rather than constructive dialogue and the
search for common ground.
In speaking with you this evening, I would like to capture the
"immigration moment" that is before us and share some thoughts on the role the
Church must play in the ongoing national immigration debate.
The Immigration Moment
Since the late 1980s, as many as 40 million immigrants -- both
documented and undocumented -- have entered the United States. Nearly one
million people enter the U.S. legally each year with the aim of residing here.
An additional 300,000 to 500,000 either come from across our southern border
with Mexico or enter legally but do not return home when their visa expires.
This era -- from the late 1980s until now -- marks the greatest levels of
immigration in our nation's history.
Why such an influx of immigrants?
While there are numerous reasons a person would decide to make the perilous
journey here, the predominant "push factor" is undoubtedly economic. To use a
very concrete example, a Mexican immigrant can earn ten times what he or she
makes in a day of work here than he would in Mexico.
The reality of globalization has set the stage for many of the
contributing factors. While goods, capital, and information can move relatively
freely in the global economy, the same is not true for the movement of labor --
people in search of decent jobs and a decent way of life. Laborers -- especially
low-skilled workers -- often are restricted from entering areas where
employment, driven by the global economy, is more abundant. In order to survive,
the most vulnerable must migrate to these jobs, far away from family and
homeland, and without the benefit of legal protections necessary to make the
As workers follow jobs in the global economy, many local
communities have struggled to effectively welcome these new arrivals. There are
neighborhoods and communities that genuinely struggle with shifting demographics
and seek ways of fully integrating new arrivals. Here in the Los Angeles region,
neighborhoods that were once predominantly inhabited by white middle-class
residents became African-American neighborhoods in the 1960s and 70s. In the
1980s and 90s, those same neighborhoods changed once again as Hispanics and
Asians populated those areas. The constant change and flux of neighborhoods
often give rise to racial and ethnic tensions that make integration and
stability elusive realities.
While the economies of industrialized nations like the United
States are increasingly dependent on foreign-born workers, racial and ethnic
tensions, along with the absence of legal structures to facilitate migration,
create obstacles that threaten the fabric of our neighborhoods and
Twelve years ago, Proposition 187, the California initiative
that sought to deny health care, social services, and public education to anyone
suspected of being undocumented, opened the door to a flood of local and
State-wide immigration initiatives. Frustration in the face of the lack of
effective solutions at the national level fueled action in State legislatures.
Aimed primarily at undocumented immigrants, these measures unfortunately had the
effect of generating ill-will towards all immigration populations -- both
documented and undocumented.
The national immigration reform debate over the past two years
has become a lightning rod for the deep divisions within our country regarding
immigration. This debate takes place in an evermore complicated environment
where national security concerns have become a major new factor in the post-9/11
In the worst cases, the anti-immigration message has sought to
prey upon the fears of Americans and to dehumanize immigrants. Too often these
fears are reinforced in the media -- especially talk radio -- by those who seek
to sow division and rancor, thereby making civil discourse difficult. In some
cases, the tragic events of September 11 have been used to mark all immigrants
as potential terrorists and to justify the enactment of harsh enforcement
measures that undermine the fairness of our laws without making us more safe. In
the end, solutions that are politically expedient are often not sound
Most Americans, including most Catholics, are legitimately
concerned with the problem of illegal immigration and seek just and lasting
solutions to this matter. Some emphasize the need for stronger and more
effective enforcement measures while others propose a mix of policies that
include providing a path to earned citizenship for undocumented persons. This
silent majority generally recognizes the need for and the benefits of
immigration, and seeks to balance the rule of law with the desire to remain open
to diversity in our culture and our society. It is here that support for just,
humane and comprehensive immigration reform can be found.
The Church and Immigration Reform
All too often when the Church enters the debate on public
policy, there are those who question its role in this arena. Some challenge the
Church's competence to weigh in on international or domestic matters. Others
question the Church's credibility in light of the scandal of sexual abuse among
some of its clergy, Religious, and laypersons. Some insist that our political
involvement oversteps the line between Church and State. Still others protest
our involvement for the simple reason that they disagree with our position on
this or that matter.
As with any controversial subject, I have received many
letters -- some more thoughtful and constructive than others -- that weigh in on
immigration and our involvement with it. Comments fall under two broad
categories: First, those who question, on a more general level, the Church's
role in the policy arena; and, second, those who specifically challenge our
position on immigration. I would like now to address these two in
III. The Role of the Church in the Policy
The Church's mission is not confined to attending to the
spiritual well-being of the person. The Church is concerned with a person's
whole human development. We do not gather people on Sunday to celebrate the
Eucharist and then send them off with only good intentions and well wishes
indifferent to what happens to them during the rest of the week. This is the
intention of Pope Benedict when he writes that "a Eucharist which does not pass
over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented." Our
worship and witness go hand in hand.
The Catholic social ethic puts the person at the center as the
starting point for how we view the world. This social ethic is guided by the
firm conviction of the inviolable dignity of the person -- a dignity that is not
qualified by economic or immigration status, race or gender, time or place. This
means that we are concerned with all aspects of people: their spiritual
well-being; the opportunities they have to participate in social, political and
economic life; avenues available to them for creativity and
In this light, the Church's social teaching is quite clear
about the role the Church must take in upholding human dignity by actively
working to advance the common good in society. In this context, the common good
is not the lowest common denominator that all can agree upon. Instead, it refers
to the social, political, and economic environment that affirms human dignity
and enables each person to realize his or her full human potential.
Gaudium et spes affirms this ecclesial mission when it notes
that the Church is to be a "sign and safeguard of the transcendent character of
the human person." In other words, the protection of human life and human
dignity is of paramount importance to the Church. The way that it does this is
through involvement in the public arena. The practical way we ensure that these
values are upheld is by making certain that a person has access to those things
that make life dignified. When it was promulgated, Pacem in terris provided one
of the most extensive and complete pictures of what these rights consist of:
adequate food, clothing, and shelter; a quality education; health care; and
productive employment that enables people to provide for themselves and their
The Church's social mission, therefore, has prophetic,
pastoral and political dimensions. Its prophetic mission involves evangelization
-- sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. In the social context, this good news
is a vision of the world aligned with the values of the Kingdom of God. Central
to this vision is the privileged place held for the poor, widow, orphan and
alien. In sharing this vision we recall the admonitions in the Hebrew Scriptures
and the Christian Scriptures which reminded Israel and the disciples of Jesus
that fidelity to the covenant would be judged by how the poor, widow, orphan and
alien are treated. Justice is nothing more, or less, than fidelity to the
demands of right relationship with our God and with our neighbor.
The irony is that if you look today to see who are the most
vulnerable, these are the same ones who are singled out by the prophets: people
in poverty; single mothers; children; and immigrants. The challenge of the
prophets is for us here and now.
The Church's competence to address concerns in the political
arena has its source in its social tradition and moral wisdom, on the one hand,
and in its pastoral experience on the other. The work and ministry we carry out
each day in the areas of education, health care, social services, and
international relief and development put us directly in touch with the lives and
stories of people of every race and ethnicity, every economic level, and
virtually every geographic region in the world. We reflect on those stories and
experiences in the light of our tradition and teaching. It is this nexus of
moral tradition, social ethic, and pastoral experience that informs our entrance
into, and advocacy in, the political realm. Policy advocacy is important because
it can have a direct impact on people's lives and, therefore, is an appropriate
place for our involvement and activity.
This social ethic does not put limits on who the beneficiaries
of our advocacy, service, and good will might be. Certainly Pope Benedict
intended to make this point when he reflects on the parable of the Good
Samaritan and writes that until that time, the concept of "neighbor" was
understood as referring essentially to one's countrymen and to foreigners who
had settled in the land of Israel; in other words, to the closely-knit community
of a single country or people. This limit is now abolished. Anyone who needs me,
and whom I can help, is my neighbor. The concept of "neighbor" is now
universalized, yet it remains concrete. Despite being extended to all mankind,
it is not reduced to a generic, abstract and undemanding expression of love, but
calls for my own practical commitment here and now.
So we bring both moral wisdom and pastoral witness to the
policy debate on immigration reform. Since we Catholics are present throughout
the United States -- in border communities, in urban centers, in rural America
-- we have direct knowledge of the human suffering that results from a broken
and inadequate immigration system and the strains that immigration can place on
local communities. In our parishes, social service programs, hospitals, and
schools we meet families that are separated, immigrant workers who are
exploited, and migrants who are injured or die along their journey.
This moral wisdom and pastoral witness allows us to engage
in a broad spectrum of concerns without compromising the integrity of our
prophetic mission to advance a culture of life. Certainly the pontificate of
Pope John Paul II demonstrated the breadth of the Church's concern while
remaining faithful to core values. He was unwavering in his opposition to
abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty and took every opportunity to assert
that the defense of human life is central to our social ethic. At the same time,
he denounced war and other forms of violence within, between and among nations;
it was through his initiative that the Vatican took such a significant role in
advancing international debt relief for developing countries as part of the
Jubilee celebrations leading up to and after the year 2000; his Encyclical
Laborem exercens, promulgated in 1981, reaffirmed Church teaching on the dignity
of work and the rights of workers; and he sought to shed light on both the
opportunities and potential dangers of advancements in biomedical
Pope John Paul II's prophetic witness was a constant reminder
to the Church and to the world that these concerns are not just medical,
economic, or political in nature but rather are matters with clear human and
moral dimensions. He sought to remind Church leaders, the lay faithful, and
Catholics involved in political life, that the compartmentalization of faith and
daily life was inconsistent with the proclamation of the Gospel and advancement
of God's Reign. The integrity of his message and the breadth of his vision
served as an affirmation for the Church's involvement to prevent the more
egregious affronts to human life as well as those circumstances that can
gradually but methodically undermine human dignity, threaten human life, and
erode the human spirit.
In addressing the unity of love of God and love of neighbor,
Pope Benedict is clear in reminding us that "love is not merely a sentiment.
Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvelous first spark, but it is
not the fullness of love." The love we want to embody "seeks the integral good
No one single issue, regardless of its importance or moral
weight, exhausts our responsibility in the public arena.
In assessing the matter of immigration today, elected
officials, especially Catholics, have an obligation to consider the human and
moral dimensions of various proposals and the degree to which they affirm or
threaten human life and human dignity.
IV. From Principles to
Policy: The Framework for Treating Newcomers Justly
So in entering the public dialogue on immigration, the Church
is guided by rich tradition and deep experience. In this light, I would like to
share five principles outlined by the Catholic Bishops of the United States and
Mexico in our landmark Pastoral Letter, Strangers No Longer: Together on the
Journey of Hope, released in 2003, and apply them to the policy proposals which
have been considered in Congress this year. The five principles are as
1. Persons have the right to remain home and find
opportunities in their homeland.
This is the first principle because it provides for the best
and longest lasting solution to the challenge of irregular immigration. Persons
should not be compelled to leave their families and undertake a perilous journey
in order to feed them. Who would not prefer to remain at home and find work
there? No one could possibly relish the thought of leaving country and family,
embark on a long and dangerous journey, only to arrive at a place where you are
apt to face exploitation and marginalization. In the first instance, immigrating
to the United States is most often not an aspiration but an act of
Recently, the Inter-American Developmental Bank reported that
immigrants to the U.S. sent back $45 billion to their home countries, a de facto
economic development program. While the submission of remittances to these
nations is positive in the short-term, in the long-term it could serve as a
dis-incentive to those governments from doing more to promote the creation of
jobs for their people at home. Here we see the need for increased bi-lateral and
multi-lateral development assistance to our neighbors as well as for other types
of political support to them as they seek to develop the economic infrastructure
that enables their citizens to remain at home.
The world we want to create is one in which migration is
driven by choice, not necessity. Sadly, however, the Congressional immigration
debate to date has been bereft of any substantive discussion about the economic
root causes of irregular immigration as well as of creative solutions to address
2. Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and
In the absence of an economy that provides
sustainable wage jobs, persons should be able to migrate in order to find
employment to support their families. Nations, in serving the international
common good, should attempt to accommodate immigration, relative to the common
good of their citizens, while simultaneously promoting economic development,
political stability, and the strengthening of civil society in immigrants'
countries of origin.
3. Sovereign nations have a right to control their borders.
A sovereign nation has the right to control its borders. This
right should be exercised in a manner that protects human dignity and human
life, takes positive steps towards facilitating legal immigration, provides safe
haven for refugees, and promotes the international common good. Border
enforcement policies are one way in which a nation exercises the right to
regulate immigration. As such, these measures should be fair, humane and just
and not contribute to human suffering or jeopardize human life.
4. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.
Those who flee political persecution and terror around the
world should be provided safe haven by their neighbors and not sent back to
5. The human rights and human dignity of undocumented
immigrants should be respected.
Once again, human dignity is not
something that can be earned, forfeited or taken away. Our dignity has an
inviolable character because we are persons created in the image of God.
Recognizing this, immigration policy must actively seek to affirm this dignity
and provide protections against the erosion of basic human rights.
These broad yet basic principles provide a general framework
for the development of fair and just immigration policy. While these principles
do not yield detailed legislation, they do provide a lens through which proposed
measures can be judged and evaluated. The challenge is always one of moving from
general principles to concrete policy. Oftentimes, it requires reconciling
rights that are held in tension with one another.
For instance, how is it that, on the one hand, a person has a
right to migrate out of economic necessity or to protect his life and that of
his family and, on the other hand, a sovereign nation has the right to control
its borders? Do these principles not conflict?
Neither of these
rights is absolute. They must be balanced by several other factors including
that of: 1) the ability of the receiving country to receive immigrants, and 2)
that of the immigrant's home country to provide economic opportunity. A more
powerful and stable economic country like the United States may have a higher
obligation to receive immigrants than a poorer, less developed neighbor. Two
factors should shape our response: 1) the capacity of the United States to
accept immigrants, and 2) the recognition that our economy needs and benefits
from this immigrant labor force. To reap such tremendous benefits from an
immigrant labor force without reciprocating with opportunities for those workers
to regularize their status is not just.
These five principles have been used as a basic framework to
assess many of the proposals discussed in Congress over the past two years. In
the light of these principles, comprehensive reform would include the following
Measures that address the economic and political root causes
of migration in countries of origin;
A program that provides the undocumented population with an
opportunity to earn citizenship;
Reform of the employment-based and family-based immigration
system that would create legal avenues for migrants and their families to
migrate legally and in a more timely fashion; and
The restoration of due process protections for
Why do the Catholic Bishops in the United States believe that
the passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill is a needed first step?
Let us look at some of the facts.
Recall that the United States is experiencing a historic wave
of immigration. Since 1986, which is the last time Congress legalized
undocumented persons in the United States, an estimated 12 million persons have
arrived and currently reside in an undocumented status.
While these immigrants contribute to our economic and cultural
vitality, immigration policy does not facilitate their legal entry into the
United States. Current policy fails to account for the fact that, in many ways,
our economy encourages the flow of illegal immigration into the country and is
dependent on their labor. Our vital economy has created a magnet attracting
needed workers to our land.
Current enforcement measures are tailored to stop immigrants
at the border. However, once immigrants enter the country, we accept their labor
and other contributions to our economy. This results in an incongruent policy in
which migrants become subject to exploitation.
Take but one
example. Since 1994, when the Federal government first employed a border
blockade strategy along our southern border, our nation has spent almost $30
billion on border enforcement alone. During the same period, the number of
undocumented immigrants in our country has nearly doubled. And tragically,
during this same period the number of migrant deaths has doubled as well
climbing to nearly 3,000 -- most of these deaths occurred while attempting to
cross into this country through the desert.
For those who survive the gauntlet at the border or otherwise
enter the United States, ninety-five percent obtain employment. These persons
work in industries essential to our economy -- manufacturing, construction,
agriculture, and service -- and contribute billions of dollars to our tax and
Social Security systems each year.
To compound matters, while on the one hand the U.S. economy
benefits significantly from the labor of undocumented immigrants, the
immigration system fails to provide legal avenues for them to migrate in a safe,
legal, and orderly fashion. It fails to permit their family members to join them
in a timely way. And, of course, it does not legally recognize the large group
of undocumented workers who live in our communities and relegates them to a
permanent underclass in our society.
There are only a relatively small number of visas available to
the unskilled worker in the current system: 5,000 per year come in as permanent
residents and two small programs -- the H2-A program for agriculture and the
H2-B program for other industries -- grant less than 100,000 work visas per
year, and that on a temporary basis.
In the family immigration system, the waiting times for family
reunification of immediate family members are interminable. Because of annual
caps and per country limits, a Mexican worker with permanent residence in the
United States must wait as long as ten years to bring his wife and children to
join him legally in the United States. The wait is longer in other family
categories and for other nations, such as the Philippines. Such delays lead to
family disintegration and encourage undocumented migration when family members
forego the long waits in order to join their family member illegally instead of
being separated for years.
And, of course, so many of these undocumented people live in
fear in the shadows of our communities. They are subject to government raids in
which fathers are traumatically torn from children and spouses. They are
exploited in the workplace, working for less than minimum wage, in substandard
conditions, and without access to the basic rights afforded to other workers.
They are unable to adjust their legal status without marriage or an employment
sponsor and, even then, the number of green cards available to them is
So, given the evidence, our country's immigration system is
woefully inadequate for our times. It needs to be reformed to confront the
realities of migration, of global economic forces, and of our own economic needs
in the twenty-first century.
This is true because our country will continue to need
unskilled laborers well into the future, as birth rates fall and baby boomers
retire. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the economy is expected to
create 56 million new jobs between 2002 and 2012, with half those jobs in
industries which require low-skilled workers. With our nation's unemployment
rate steady at 4.4%, immigrants are not taking jobs away from Americans born and
Thus, a comprehensive immigration reform bill would accomplish
two vital objectives: It would help protect the basic rights of immigrants and
their families, while also serving the economic long-term interest of our
In offering these points as essential elements of fair and
just immigration policy reform, we are not suggesting that these will completely
end the flow of illegal immigration. Immigration is, to say the least, a complex
matter and does not lend itself to easy solutions. No single piece of
legislation will on its own solve the problem of irregular immigration. No
fence, no matter how long or how tall, will end its flow. For comprehensive
reform to succeed and provide a lasting remedy, international cooperation and a
genuine commitment are called for in order to narrow the gap between rich and
These principles and elements, however, will point us in the
right direction. Only in this way will long-term solutions be
V. The Road Ahead
Congress to date has not taken the necessary action to address
the "immigration moment" in our country.
Unfortunately, neither the bill passed by the House of
Representatives nor that of the U.S. Senate contains the necessary elements to
meet the challenge of illegal immigration in our nation. To be fair, the Senate
bill marks a step in the right direction though it falls far short of
comprehensive reform. The original House measure, an enforcement-only proposal,
would in my view and that of my brother Bishops make the immigration system even
more unjust and cause undue suffering.
The Church in all its members must continue to push public
opinion and policymakers towards truly comprehensive reform. Just as important,
we must continue to educate Catholics about immigration in the light of our
faith, in the context of our teaching, and out of the wisdom of our experience.
We should seize this as a practical opportunity to respond to the challenge that
Pope Benedict puts before us through Deus caritas est by making the love of God
and love of neighbor palpable and real.
It is my hope that the new Congress finds the political will
to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Similarly, I pray that the Church
maintains its moral will to stand with the poor and vulnerable.
We have several factors in our favor. First, I firmly believe
that the policy arguments for comprehensive immigration reform are sound. They
match the reality we see each day in our workplaces and communities.
Second, despite the rhetoric of those who seek to use
immigration to divide our communities, I believe that the people of this nation
are a compassionate and welcoming people who do not want a nation divided.
Third, I believe that when the Church can organize and speak
with a clear voice as it has in the past, it can be a potent force for positive
social change. The Justice for Immigrants Campaign is making inroads not only by
collaborating with immigrant rights organizations but also by working with the
Catholic faithful around the country who care deeply about their faith and how
they embody that faith in practical discipleship.
And fourth, a new Congress has been elected. I am hopeful that
the new Congress will work closely with the President to enact meaningful and
just immigration reform in 2007.
In conclusion, I would like to share a few brief thoughts
about how this whole discussion might inform the ministry of the seminarians
present here this evening.
From the earliest days of my priesthood, I worked with
immigrants here in California. Their struggles, the depth of their faith, and
their great spirit have been a formative force in my priesthood. For me, these
privileged experiences have confirmed the wisdom of our social teaching, the
relevance of our pastoral ministry, and the power of our prophetic
In your parish ministry, I would encourage you to listen
actively and attentively to the stories of your parishioners regardless of
whether that person is the chief executive of a thriving business or the janitor
who cleans his office every night. Listen to as many stories as you can of both
the affluent and the poor, long time residents or newly arrived immigrants. Let
those stories touch you and shape you. I believe that if you do this with a
faithful heart, you will see how God is leading you to be a more faithful
disciple and humble servant to God's people.
There is no need for you to become a policy expert. But you
should know that our advocacy is important because of how policies impact
There is no need for you to become a social worker. But you
should support those in your parish communities who seek to feed, clothe,
shelter and visit those in need.
There is no need for you to be a social scientist. But you
should understand that the role of the Church and the vocation of Catholics is
to reshape and reorganize society so that it better reflects the values and
vision of the Kingdom of God.
As a priest, you cannot do it all. But you can animate,
inspire, and lead people to think about our world differently, a world shaped by
the understanding that we love God by loving our neighbor in practical and
Thank you. God Bless you, and may God be glorified in all you
say and in all you do!