Bishop's Interview: Immigrants need our love, compassion and help
Editor: Bishop in the news lately we are hearing more and more about the youth who are coming to the U.S. undocumented and unaccompanied by adults. Tell us about these young migrants?
Bishop Vásquez: Yes, over the last few years there has been an influx of young people, as in minors under the age of 18 and some as young as 10, seeking entry into the U.S. These children are unaccompanied by their parents and are literally walking to get here from their own countries in Central and South America. The majority of them are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and they are coming for several reasons.
They are seeking escape from the terribly frightening situations in their own countries, where they are being pressured to join gangs and sell drugs. Some of these young people are fleeing from violence or are trying to avoid prostitution. Some of them are coming to the U.S. because they want to be reunited with their own parents. They want to be part of a family again.
These young people are so desperate to escape the violence of their home country or to be with their families again that they literally are leaving their homes with only what they can carry. They come to the U.S. in hopes of making better lives for themselves and their loved ones.
This influx of young immigrants is very important for us as Catholics to speak to because this is a humanitarian concern for all of us. Many people see this as a problem. But these are not problems, these are people who have feelings and dreams and who are trying to survive. They come here with hope, but to get here they have to undergo terrible strife and many have died in the process. Some have gotten sick, some have been taken advantage of, and many have been abused along the way.
This is a terribly frightening situation for these young people, and it’s important for us to be aware of their needs and show compassion to them. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells us when we welcome the stranger, we welcome Jesus. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25:35). We are to give openness and reception to the person who is coming, whether they are like us or not. Scripture tells very clearly that in these persons Christ is present. When we look into the eyes of these individuals, these young children who have traveled so long to follow their dreams, we see Christ looking back at us.
In addition, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him” (2241).
Some might argue that we are not able to receive these children, but we are asking Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan to receive hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing violence in Syria. How can we ask the world to do what we are unwilling to do ourselves?
Pope Francis has spoken about immigrants and urged us many times over the last year to open our hearts to the plight of immigrants. Particularly in Lampedusa last July, Pope Francis warned us against indifference: “Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters ... It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference.”
Our Holy Father encourages us to fight indifference and reach out to those in need with love and compassion, “These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, fail to find solidarity. And their cry rises up to God!”
Editor: How can we help these young people? What are some things we can do?
Bishop Vásquez: I think that our first challenge, as Pope Francis says is to fight indifference and to be more involved and informed about what is going on with the immigration issue. In our own country we know that the immigration policy is broken, and everyone knows this. Both parties, the Republican and the Democrats have stated this very clearly. The current administration has said it over and over again, and yet no one seems to be able to move, to try to at least create a new policy that would address these particular issues. This has been extremely disappointing to me and my fellow bishops. Therefore, it’s important that we as Catholics, as people of goodwill, encourage our government leaders to fix the immigration system in our country.
How do we help these people? Thousands of young children come cross our borders every year. This is not “the government’s problem,” it’s not a “border state problem,” and it’s not a “particular political party’s problem.” No, this is a situation where all of us have to be involved and truly concerned for the wellbeing of our brothers and sisters. These people are suffering and they need our help. We need to ask our state and national officials to truly work at trying to come up with a policy that will address our broken immigration system.
Editor: What is your prayer for those who are fleeing their homelands for their safety and freedom?
Bishop Vásquez: I ask the protection of Jesus, Mary and Joseph for these immigrants. The Holy Family were immigrants at the very beginning of Jesus’ own life. They had to leave their native country and go to a foreign land because they were being persecuted and violence was seeking them out to destroy the very life of Jesus.
Many of these young people are coming to the U.S. for the exact same reason. They are persecuted. There is violence in their background. They just want to find a place where they can start again and have a good life. Every person deserves that. They deserve to have a good home and a place to raise their families. So that’s my prayer, through the intercession of Jesus, Mary and Joseph that these young people will find protection and be welcomed in our country and not be treated as problems, or difficulties or burdens.
Editor: For those of us who minister to them and help them fulfill their dreams what is your payer?
Bishop Vásquez: My prayer is that we will open our hearts to these individuals, again to see them as persons and not as problems. When I see the faces of these young people on the television or in the newspaper, it just breaks my heart. They are exhausted, tired, hungry, thirsty, and many of them are sick. They need attention. They need help. They do not need to be treated as prisoners or as subsidiary people. They are people just like us, who have been given dignity and worth from our loving and merciful God. Therefore, I pray that we will all show them the love and respect that God grants us on a daily basis.
From the bishops of Texas
Texas’ Catholic Bishops are deeply concerned about the increasing number of unaccompanied children and mothers from Central America and Mexico who are crossing into the United States through our state. Some of these children, as young as four years of age, are reportedly being held in crowded conditions in Customs and Border Protection detention facilities until they can be processed and accepted into a temporary living shelter. So far this year, some 47,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended, with estimates that the number could grow to 90,000 by the end of September.
The Catholic Charities agencies across Texas have expanded their commitments with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency –– who has been tasked with leading the federal effort –– and the Federal Office of Refugee and Resettlement to provide for the basic needs of these mothers and children while their cases are being resolved or they are reunified with their families. Not only does this include opening new temporary shelters, but also providing social workers, immigration lawyers, and medical personnel to meet immediate needs.
We must not lose sight of the fact that these are young, scared, and desperate mothers and children. They need and deserve our protection and support. Now is not the moment for inflammatory political rhetoric, but of compassionate and orderly resolution to the conditions of these women and children who are already in a difficult humanitarian situation. We are immensely grateful for the generosity of those who are selflessly giving of their time in bus stations and shelters to alleviate the confusion and desperation of the immigrants. We call on our fellow Texans to pray for the safety and wellbeing of these young refugees and for the continued efforts of both public and private aid officials in resolving this potential humanitarian crisis along the border.