Today’s Mass brings to conclusion National Migration Week observed at this time in many dioceses throughout the United States. The Church in the United States was born of the immigrant experience – there are not many American Catholics who are more than one or two generations removed from the immigrant experience. And today, since the last 40 years has witnessed an extraordinary growth of immigration into the United States, we can say that the Church in the United States is being reborn thanks to the millions of Catholics among these newcomers. In many parts of our country, immigrants are revitalizing entire neighborhoods – and certainly they are also revitalizing many of our parishes, especially through the many vocations to the priesthood they have generously given their adopted land and Church.
The theme this year is: A Journey of Peace and Hope. This is surely the aspiration of so many migrants and refugees who leave behind harsh, sometimes violent, conditions in search of peace and hope for themselves and their families. This was surely the aspiration that motivated so many of you to come here to this nation to build new lives.
Today’s world continues to be a harsh one for the more than 35 million refugees and displaced persons. Desperate poverty still forces millions to seek conditions worthy of human life far from their native lands. Peace and hope are indeed elusive for so many of our brothers and sisters. Pope John Paul II reminds us: “No one can deny that the aspiration to peace is rooted in the heart of a large part of humanity. That is exactly the ardent desire that spurs people to seek every possible path to a better future for one and all.” People should not be forced to migrate by denying them the conditions worthy of human life at home – but when these conditions cannot be secured at home then they should not be prevented from seeking them elsewhere.
The United States has been a beacon of hope and a haven of peace for generations of migrants and refugees. As a nation and as a Church, we must continue to offer hope and peace to the stranger among us. Indeed, our history has shown that the diversity of peoples who have arrived at our shores has enriched us both as a nation and as a Church.
Today, as a community of faith, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus by John in the river Jordan. This feast has often been call “the little epiphany” – for just as last Sunday’s feast of the Epiphany recalled how to the Magi Jesus was revealed or “manifested” as the Savior of the nations, so too today’s feast reminds us that Jesus’ anointing by the Holy Spirit was not only the beginning of his mission to Israel but also of his mission to all of mankind as a whole. In today’s second reading, Peter having just baptized the Gentile Cornelius declares: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. Rather, in every nation whosever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”
We are one family – brothers and sisters of one Father – not through flesh and blood but through water and the Holy Spirit. As a Catholic people made up of many ethnicities and nationalities, speaking different languages with different cultures we are one in Christ – and in Christ, we recognize that through our diversity we can enrich each other. For in the Body of Christ, diversity does not divide us – only sin can divide us; but, Christ is stronger than sin.
Today, as we observe Migration Week, I wish to affirm all the newcomers, all the strangers among us – for in Christ we are strangers no longer – together we journey as pilgrims seeking the peace and hope of Jesus’ promised Kingdom.
As we reflect on the immigrant experience, we can draw a parallel to Jesus’ coming among us as man and a newcomer’s arrival in a strange land. In this perhaps, our reflection will help us contemplate the face of Jesus in the visage of the immigrant. Like the immigrant who arrives to our land, Jesus through his incarnation pitched his tent in our midst. He became a man like us but he did not lose his identity as God.
In the same way, the immigrant in arriving in a new culture must adapt to new ways, to a new manner of living, a new way of speaking. But in doing so, he should not lose himself. That is, he should not abandon his identity even as he adjusts to his new surroundings.
In other words, if immigrants and all new comers would meditate on Our Lord’s incarnation, – and if those of us who are not immigrants would make that same meditation, we would develop a more open outlook that refuses to consider solely the differences between immigrants and the local people. In this way, we may be able to forge a common path to a genuine integration. In this way, we can avoid, on one the hand, assimilationist models that tend to transform those who are different into copies of ourselves. On the other hand, we must exclude models that would marginalize immigrants.
It is within this context, the Church in the United States pledges to make its parishes more welcoming and offer whenever possible pastoral agents and structures so that the newcomer can be ministered to in his own language with proper sensitivity to his culture.
At the same time, recognizing that the newcomer is –regardless of legal status – is a human person, he is a brother, she is a sister with a claim on our solidarity, we pledge to continue to work for more just immigration laws – laws that help unite families not divide them, laws that help integrate newcomers by making them stakeholders within the system and not laws that for lack of fair remedies continue to marginalize and isolate men and women who only want the opportunity to make an honest living.
Here in Orlando, while we must do better in welcoming all new comers to our parishes, we can take some holy pride in the fact that the number of our Spanish language Masses continues to grow; and, that here in this diocese, in addition to Spanish and English, Mass is offered every Sunday in Polish, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Portuguese and Haitian Creole.
Our Catholic Charities continues to help resettle refugees from all over the world and its legal office provides immigration law assistance to hundreds of immigrants each year.
During 2005, the religious community founded by the first American citizen to be canonized a saint, Mother Frances X. Cabrini, will celebrate its 125th anniversary. Mother Cabrini and her Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus came to America at the beginning of the 20th century to minister to immigrants at the behest of Pope Leo XIII.
When Bishop Dorsey’s retired, I became your diocesan bishop on November 13th, which is Mother Cabrini’s feast day. I pray that her example inspire all of us as we face some of the same challenges of welcoming the newcomer at the beginning of the 21st century.
May her prayers accompany us as we work in solidarity with the newcomer to make their journey in this their adopted land truly a journey of peace and hope.