‘I pray to God the Church can help change things’

Mass celebrated by bishops along US-Mexico border brings hope to immigrants

NOGALES, Ariz.—As bishops held Mass April 1 along the border fence that separates Arizona and Mexico, Yesenia Garcia prayed from Longmont that President Barack Obama and members of Congress would start seeing her and her family as human beings created by God. She fears they view undocumented immigrants as political pawns.

“Hopefully with the bishops and Pope Francis working so hard to change immigration policy, something will change,” Garcia said after the April 1 border Mass. “To these politicians, we’re not really seen as families torn apart. We’re not seen as sisters and brothers, daughters and sons. We’re just a convenient talking point when they need they need the Hispanic vote. I pray to God the Church can help change things.”

Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration celebrated Mass at the border to remember migrants who have died attempting to reach the United States through miles of deadly, barren desert. Titled “Mission for Migrants,” activities including a wreath-laying ceremony and a tour of the border. It was inspired by a trip Pope Francis took to Lampedusa, Italy, last year to pray for migrants who died attempting to reach Europe by boat.

“We forget that the migrant is often manipulated by criminal organizations promising to deliver them to a better life,” said Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, in a written statement that urges all the faithful of northern Colorado to pray for nearly 6,000 migrants who have died trying to reach the United States since 1998. “I wish to bring to mind in particular the 30,000 children each year who attempt to cross the border unaccompanied. We can only imagine the sufferings endured by this particularly vulnerable population.”

Garcia, a lifelong Catholic, knows firsthand the plight of immigrant children who enter the country illegally. She was snuck into the United States at age 5, as her mother fled desperate circumstances in Mexico.

“I started kindergarten in the United States and didn’t realize I was an undocumented immigrant until I started researching to enter college,” said Garcia, who’s 28. “They wanted a Social Security number. I began realizing the predicament and gradually became convinced there was nothing I could do. My school counselors had no answers.”

As adulthood grew near, Garcia’s extraordinary disadvantage only got worse. College was nearly out of the question, along with most career options. After graduating high school, she continued trying to become a documented resident.

“Lawyers had no answers,” she explained. “Some would tell me I had no options and not to waste my money. Others would charge me $150 and then tell me I had no good options.”

Garcia still hopes to attend college, especially in wake of Colorado lowering the cost of tuition for immigrants brought into the country as young children.

Garcia prays nonstop about her brother, who was 10 when the family came to the United States and faces deportation today. Though Garcia is protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, her brother exceeded the age limit when it was enacted in 2012.

“If there isn’t a miracle, or a change in the law, I will eventually be ripped apart from my brother,” Garcia explained.

During his homily, Cardinal O’Malley told of an immigrant he befriended while ministering to Latinos in Washington, D.C. The man had come to the United States from El Salvador as a desperate attempt to provide for his wife and six children. War had rendered the family’s farming operation futile.

The man lived like a pauper in the United States, walking to and from work to avoid spending money on transportation. He put his cash wages in what he thought was a shiny blue mailbox and continued the practice. But the envelopes, addressed to his wife, did not arrive. He took the dilemma to then-Father O’Malley, who asked to see the mailbox

“It wasn’t a mailbox at all. It was just a fancy trash bin,” Cardinal O’Malley told the assembly. “This gave me a glimpse of the hardship of so many immigrants who come to the United States.”

The cardinal told how his own family members, working-class immigrants from Ireland, were considered undesirable when they arrived in the United States.

During a press conference following the Mass, Cardinal O’Malley stressed how he and other bishops are not looking for a “quick fix” or an “easy solution” to the complex issue of immigration. They merely want President Obama and Congress to quickly improve immigration laws in a way that creates more justice and respects human rights and dignity.

“We can no longer tolerate the human suffering caused by this system,” the cardinal explained. “It weakens our moral authority and lessens us as a nation.”

Among those putting hope in the bishops’ appeal for immigration reform is Sergio Garcia, a Mexican who’s the first undocumented immigrant in the United States to be licensed as a practicing attorney. He continues waiting on government to process a green card that was given preliminary approval in 1995.

“There is nothing human about deportation,” said Garcia, who practices law in southern California and could face deportation any day. “It’s great that the Church is getting so involved, but it needs to do more. So many of us have tried so many things, and pretty much everything has failed so far.”

Msgr. Jorge De los Santos, vicar for Hispanic  Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver, noted that while the Mass probably won’t change the minds and hearts of politicians in Washington, D.C., it sends a message to Catholics “to care more about this issue.”

He said this is helpful “because a lot of immigrants think the Church does not care about them.”

Archbishop Aquila asks Catholics to pray that politicians “might rise above partisan rhetoric and seek reforms to our immigration system that would ensure the dignity and just treatment of migrants.”


COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash