Bishop David O'Connell has issued a pastoral statement challenging Catholics to reach across partisan boundaries to pray and act for solutions to the challenges facing immigrants in the United States.
“As Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, I ask all Catholics and those who believe with us, to put aside any partisan differences to pray for all our immigrant sisters and brothers, particularly on Justice for Immigrants Sunday,” Bishop O’Connell stated July 8.
The pastoral statement of the successor to the apostles was delivered in advance of July 14, which is observed as Justice for Immigrants Sunday.
Bishop O'Connell hopes that with the help of Christians’ prayers and work, immigrants “too might know the 'liberty and justice for all' that is the foundation of this land we love.”
“Aside from those of us who have the privilege of being native Americans, the rest of us have ancestors who came to our shores from somewhere else, some willingly, seeking liberty and justice, while others, sadly, arrived in chains,” Bishop O’Connell commented.
He noted that while the Constitution prohibits establishment of a government-backed church, and that institutional distance is wise, “we can never ignore or forget the fact that God created all those who constitute the State as well as those within that same group who constitute the Church.”
“God has always been there in the fabric of American life regardless of the opinions of those who argue to the contrary,” he reminded his flock.
The bishop commented that the presence of God within the Church and within the United States more broadly should drive Christians to care for “the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill, the imprisoned,” and anyone in need.
Bishop O’Connell highlighted a 2003 pastoral letter by the U.S. bishops' conference titled "Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope" that address the conditions facing immigrants to the United States, “strongly advocating the reform of a badly broken system in our country.”
“That something significant and substantial needs to be done is hardly arguable. How best to accomplish that goal continues to be a source of debate, even division within our nation,” Bishop O’Connell noted.
He lamented the tendency for American discourse to “paint the issues involved with political and partisan brushes, thereby adding to the polarization and the delay in resolution,” but cautioned that resolution of social issues such as immigration are “not Washington's problem.”
“It is a concern for all citizens of our country as well as those who hope to be, much as it was for our ancestors who arrived here with hopes for and dreams of a better life, ‘under God, with liberty and justice for all.’”
In this call for citizens to address the challenges facing immigrants, he cautioned Catholics against apathy, quoting Pope Francis’ criticisms at Italy’s own “migrant island” Lampedusa, that we “have become used to other people's suffering, it doesn't concern us, it doesn't interest us.”
Bishop O'Connell taught that “on the contrary, whatever we, as Catholics, can do to foster the hopes and dreams of those who see our country as their potential home is an imperative of the Gospel and of the Catholic Social Teaching based upon it, not of our political persuasion.”
However he encouraged the faithful that prayer “is a powerful prerogative and something that all of us can do.”
“I believe that with all my heart and soul,” he concluded.