Catholic Approach to Immigration Rooted in Human Dignity
Donna Gann, immigration coordinator for Catholic Charities of Tennessee, addresses a forum on immigration reform sponsored by St. Matthew and St. Henry parishes. The forum featured Bishop David Choby, attorney Gregg Ramos and Gann, and was moderated by Fran Rajotte, director of advocacy and social concerns for Catholic Charities. The forum was the kick off for an eight-week workshop "Crossing Borders: Migration, Theology and the Human Journey." Photo by Andy Telli
The Catholic approach to immigration is rooted in the church's belief in the God-given dignity of every human being, Bishop David Choby said during a forum on immigration jointly sponsored by St. Henry and St. Matthew parishes.
The forum, which also included attorney Gregg Ramos, a former board chairman of Catholic Charities of Tennessee, and Donna Gann, immigration coordinator for Catholic Charities, was held as a prelude to a multi-week workshop on immigration, titled "Crossing Borders: Migration, Theology and the Human Journey."
The workshops will be held weekly through Oct. 31.
Bishop Choby noted that many immigrants come to the United States looking for greater economic opportunities for themselves and their families, and many sectors of the American economy depend on immigrant labor.
But Bishop Choby said that shouldn't be the argument put forth by the church. "I feel a little uncomfortable with that argument. It's an argument from utility. I don't know if that's a very helpful way to proceed," he said.
The danger of that outlook, Bishop Choby said, is that a person's value could be diminished if their productivity no longer reaches the level society wants it to be. "As a Catholic people we don't want to start there."
"As Catholics we start with the realization of who are we are as persons, ... our value as a person, is inherent in the fact God has created us for himself," Bishop Choby said. "In a secular society such as ours, that particular argument may not hold a whole lot of water," he acknowledged.
The United States has long wrestled with its relationship with immigrants, said Ramos, who led efforts to defeat a referendum that would have made English the official language of Metro Nashville government.
"We are a country of immigrants. We forget that," said Ramos.
The Declaration of Independence states all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator, with inalienable rights, he noted. "That's the essence of the American Dream."
But the process of "forming a more perfect union" cited in the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, Ramos said, "is not frozen in time."
There have been several efforts in recent years to push through Congress comprehensive reform of the nation's immigration system. Catholic Charities started providing services to undocumented immigrants in 1986, when Congress passed the last reform of the immigration system, Gann said. Among the services was helping immigrants apply for the amnesty that law provided.
Since then, more services have been added, including English and citizenship classes for refugees who have settled in Middle Tennessee, and educating immigrants about scams run by people who take money to help people become citizens without ever delivering what they promise, Gann said.
"It's not just welcoming the stranger, it's holding their hand, giving them a tissue when they're crying in your office" and leading them through a complex process that often can be difficult to understand, she said.
Traditionally, most of the Catholics in the Diocese of Nashville have claimed Irish or German heritage, Bishop Choby said. But in the last 20 years or so, that has changed with the arrival of Catholic immigrants, both documented and undocumented, from Asia, Africa, India and Central America, he said.
"It's a blessing for us to have that kind of diversity because it reflects what the church is" and its universal nature, Bishop Choby said. "I welcome it."
The community needs to be open to the different perspectives on the immigration issue and not give in to fear, Ramos said.
The Crossing Borders workshop is based on a seminar guide published by Just Faith Ministries. The program is designed to stimulate conversation on a wide range of immigration-related issues that impact the Christian family, the community, the nation and the world.
The weekly sessions of the workshop will alternate between St. Henry and St. Matthew, which are jointly sponsored the program. The topics to be discussed include:
• Migration in human history, in U.S. history and in family history, Thursday, Sept. 19, St. Henry Parish Center in the former chapel. St. Henry is located at 6401 Harding Road in Nashville.
• Migration as a biblical theme; responding to Jesus' challenge to love our neighbor, Thursday, Sept. 26, St. Matthew Parish Center Meeting Room, 535 Sneed Road West, Franklin.
· Migration terminology, root causes, and immigration between the U.S. and Mexico, Thursday, Oct. 3, St. Henry.
· Catholic social teaching on immigration, contrasting human and citizenship rights, Thursday, Oct 10, St. Matthew.
• U.S. and foreign human trafficking in sex trades, employment, fair trade: influence on individual spending habits, Thursday, Oct. 17, St. Henry.
· Recognizing the inalienable rights of aliens, Thursday, Oct. 24, St. Matthew.
· The Kingdom of God vs. political borders; microcredits effect in minimizing migration, Thursday, Oct. 31, St. Henry.
The cost for the workshop is $10 and participants are asked to purchase the books: International Migration" by Khalid Koser; "A Promised Land, A Perilous Journey" by Daniel G. Groody and Gioacchino Campese; and "Globalization, Spirituality and Justice" by Daniel G. Groody.
For more information contact: Jack Castellano email@example.com; John Duckett at firstname.lastname@example.org; Kirk Jordan at email@example.com; or Fran Rajotte at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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