Teaching our Faith – Migrants and Catholic social teaching

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

This series of teaching editorials focuses on the Church’s approach to immigrants and refugees, especially in light of Pope Francis’ invitation to “Share the Journey.”

“I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35

On Sept. 27, Pope Francis invited us to join him and share the journey of migrants, including immigrants, refugees, displaced persons and those who are victims of human trafficking. In his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2018, our Holy Father summarized the basis for this invitation, noting the Church’s deep concern for persons in any of these situations and reminding us that “every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identified with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age (Matthew 25: 35-43).”

In this series of teaching editorials, many aspects of the Church’s teaching and response to migrants will be presented. I would like to offer some reflections on our response in light of Catholic social teaching.

We know that the Church at her best has always been a church that welcomes and accompanies others. Chapter 22 of the Book of Exodus states: “You shall not oppress or do wrong to a stranger for you were once a stranger in the land of Egypt.” The New Testament relates the story of the Holy Family, migrants who fled from the terror of Herod, and we know that Jesus Himself moved from place to place with “nowhere to lay His Head” (Matthew 8:20). Of course, the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 specifically link our response to those who are hungry, thirsty, naked and who are strangers to the person of Jesus Himself.

In his message for migrants, Pope Francis envisions our response as a Church residing in four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate. These verbs emerge from Catholic social teaching, especially the principles of the life and dignity of the person; the call to family, community, and participation; the option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; and solidarity.

We welcome migrants out of our fundamental understanding of the equal natural dignity of all persons and our solidarity with persons of every race, nation and religion, especially the poor and vulnerable. This dignity presupposes the ability of a person to provide for basic needs, support their families and participate fully in the community through the use of their God-given talents. The universal common good recognizes that the goods of the earth belong to all people and cannot be hoarded or controlled to benefit only the few or select groups.

Basic human rights, including the right to work and to a just wage, the right to raise a family and contribute to the community call for public policy to protect migrants, many of whom are fleeing persecution, violence, or economic deprivation, independent of their legal status. To promote includes efforts to assist migrants in leading lives of meaning and purpose, including protecting the integrity of the family, the possibility of work, religious freedom and all of the rights that we take for granted as Americans.

Finally, to integrate means fostering intercultural enrichment through an encounter in which the culture and identity of migrants meets the culture and identity of those who are welcoming them in a mutually respectful and beneficial relationship.

At the same time, the Church respects the rights of sovereign nations to control their borders in the service of the common good of its citizens. The national dialogue needed requires comprehensive reform that includes legitimate concerns for the safety and welfare of all citizens. However, these concerns are not an absolute right, and the capacity of rich and powerful nations like the United States to welcome refugees and immigrants also is a serious responsibility. 

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more” (Luke 12:48). Immigration reform and common sense security measures will challenge the false premise that claims security and treating people humanely are mutually exclusive. We need to do both, and I am confident that we can.

Subsequent articles in this series will dive into public policy issues, the reality of refugees and pastoral care for immigrants and the personal stories of migrants. As the grandson of Slovakian and Polish immigrants who came to this country to seek a better life, I pledge to join Pope Francis in sharing the journey of those migrants who come to this country today.  The diversity and hope of so many over the last 200+ years who have journeyed to the United States have made us what we are today. Our continued efforts to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate migrants will make us stronger tomorrow.

The Most Reverend
Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D.
Archbishop of Louisville

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