Immigration is a “religious and spiritual issue” as much as it is a matter of politics and economics, Los Angeles Coadjutor Archbishop José H. Gomez told Catholic business leaders Feb. 3.
“Immigration tests our commitment as disciples and our faithfulness to the Gospel and mission of his Church,” he said in a keynote address to participants in the annual Legatus Summit.
He recalled that as an infant Jesus himself, along with Mary and Joseph, were forced to flee into Egypt and lived for a time as immigrants and refugees.
Christians, he said, must ponder the mystery of “why did Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, choose to experience the conditions of an immigrant?”
The Feb. 3-5 meeting of Legatus drew more than 500 top Catholic executives and business owners from around the country to pray and hear talks from a variety of Church and other leaders, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
In his address, Archbishop Gomez, head of the U.S. bishops’ committee on migration, acknowledged that Catholics are as deeply divided over immigration as their fellow citizens.
But he insisted that whatever their political or economic concerns, Catholics are obliged to consider immigration in light of the teachings of Christ and the Church.
“We cannot separate our faith in Jesus from the policies we advocate as citizens,” Archbishop Gomez said.
“Right now in this country, there are a lot of people – a lot of good people – who are saying things they know they should never be saying about immigrants,” he said. “Their anger and frustration is understandable. But their rhetoric and many of their political responses are not worthy of the Gospel. And they are not worthy of America’s proud history as a beacon of hope for the world’s poor and persecuted.”
Archbishop Gomez devoted much of his 35-minute talk to exploring the roots of the Church’s teaching on immigration.
“We care for the immigrant because Jesus commanded it,” he said. “Because he told us that we must seek him and serve him in the least of our brothers and sisters. This is why our Lord endured the humiliations of the immigrant and the stranger.”
Archbishop Gomez also noted that in his parable of the final judgment of souls, Jesus said love for God would be judged by love for the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the immigrant.
“Jesus calls us to true love,” Archbishop Gomez said. “Not love in words alone. But love in deed. A love that reflects the love that God has for each of his children. We cannot say we love the God we do not see unless we love our brothers and sisters whom we do see.”
Archbishop Gomez said current U.S. enforcement policies – including workplace raids and deportations – do not measure up to the standards of the Gospel and Christian love.
“We are destroying families in the name of enforcing our laws,” he said.
“It is true that many immigrants are in our country illegally. That bothers me. I don’t like it when our rule of law is flouted. And I support just and appropriate punishments. But right now, we are imposing penalties that leave wives without husbands, children without parents. We are deporting fathers and leaving single mothers to raise children on little to no income,” Archbishop Gomez said.
“We are a better people than that,” he added. “We have always been a nation of justice and law. But we have also been a nation of mercy and forgiveness.”
Archbishop Gomez said that Catholics should lead the way in changing the way immigrants and treated.
“We need you to help remind our neighbors that we are all brothers and sisters, children of God – no matter where we come from, or how we got here, or what kind of documents we possess,” he told the business leaders.
He said that the nation’s Hispanic immigrants are people with “strong traditions of family and faith, community and hard work.” In addition, he said, most are Catholic and hold “deep conservative values.”
“I believe that the more we get to know them, the more we would want them to be our neighbors, friends, and fellow citizens,” Archbishop Gomez said. “That’s why I believe that today’s immigrants – like generations of immigrants before them – are the hope for tomorrow’s America. We need to find the political will to make them our fellow citizens. If we can, I know that together we will build an America that is stronger, more religious, and more moral.”
Archbishop Gomez, a U.S. citizen born in Monterrey, Mexico, is the highest-ranking Hispanic member of the American Catholic hierarchy. He will assume leadership of Los Angeles, the nation’s largest archdiocese, when Cardinal Roger H. Mahony retires on Feb. 27.