CST Corner: Immigration

February 22, 2016

Catholic Social Teaching Corner Popes on a Plane: The Border and Christian Sensibilities by Fr. Francis Belanger, O.P. “Pope Speaks Up for Immigrants, Touching a Nerve,” headlined the article about a papal statement on an airplane. It seems an apt reference to the brouhaha over Pope Francis, Donald Trump and the border, but it’s actually about Pope Benedict’s trip to the U.S. in 2008! Concern for migrants is not merely a personal issue of Francis: it is the mind of the Church. In his interview seven years ago, Benedict showed that reason and simple respect for human dignity inform the Church’s stance. His answers offer us, in a detached way, some understanding of why Pope Francis might say that a candidate with harshly exclusive views “is not Christian.” Flying to the U.S., Pope Benedict was asked about the immigration debate. He proposed a basic principle that is too frequently ignored in public discourse: “The fundamental solution is that there should no longer be any need to emigrate because there are sufficient jobs in the homeland…” In other words, integral human development in the developing world, a foundational doctrine of Catholic Social Teaching, is what is needed to stem the tide. Too much of the focus in immigration debates is on border security, so the Pope called attention to root causes. The issue should awaken the compassion and solidarity of decent people. Thus Benedict, making specific an emphasis of the social magisterium since Blessed Paul VI’ s Popolorum Progressio, promised to discuss with President Bush that “it is above all the United States that must help these countries to develop.” Certainly illegal immigration is a complex problem. It involves questions of security, law and order, and international economics. And, to be sure, no one can wave a magic wand to create development in lands with entrenched, systemic poverty. But, in the short term, even while laws are enforced, Benedict admonished that “families should be protected rather than destroyed” and human dignity should be honored. In the long run, we should reject the simplistic rhetorical dyad of keeping everyone out versus letting everyone in. What Pope Francis said last week was that it is unchristian if one’s only solution is to wall people out. To quote him exactly: “A person who thinks only of building walls, wherever that may be, and not bridges, is not Christian.” A good question then to ask ourselves is, “Have we done enough to help poor countries to help themselves?” Most of the Latin American immigration coming to the U.S. is because of a huge disparity of wealth between our country and nations to the south. People are desperate, and it is truly heartless – indeed unchristian – to speak exclusively of deportation and exclusion as remedies. Whatever the legitimate concerns for security and order, there looms the temptation for rich nations to make a fortress of comfort and wall out the “cry of the poor” (cf. Psalm 34). It is the task of politicians to work out policies based on the rational principles in line with God’s law. We and they should be concerned for the integral development of all people because, as Pope Francis never tires of saying, we are all brothers and sisters. The background of a Pope is Providential. As St. John Paul II, the Polish pope, spoke in a special way for the victims of ideological totalitarianism, so the Latin American Francis magnifies the plight of the Third World poor. One can understand his revulsion for political solutions that seem to criminalize and discard the needy. The Christian response, never departing from justice and prudence, is always one of compassion for the less fortunate. For indeed we have all been saved by almighty God who, despite our sinfulness and desperation, broke down the barriers between heaven and earth and sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to welcome us into the everlasting Promised Land.

Image: Jeffrey Bruno, Pope Francis Celebrates Concluding Mass in Philly

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