Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston called for a greater awareness of the situation faced by many immigrants to the U.S., as well as the need to reform a “broken and woefully inadequate” system.
“Pope Francis’ presence at Lampedusa was a clarion call to reject the attitude of indifference to the plight of immigrants,” he said.
The cardinal’s remarks came May 13 during his keynote address at the 2014 National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. He discussed the need to be bold disciples, unafraid of proclaiming the Gospel on issues from the sanctity of human life to the dignity of marriage.
In addition, he spent time focusing specifically on the issue of immigration and the need for immigration reform.
The cardinal described how he worked for 20 years with the immigrant community in Washington, D.C., recalling the experience as “a great joy.”
“I did not find this to be a corrupting influence on my life, but rather an uplifting experience and indeed a great privilege,” he said. “Coming from a lace curtain Irish community in the Midwest, being thrust into the challenges and sufferings of the immigrant community was truly an eye-opener.”
“Most of my parishioners were undocumented workers, refugees from the wars in Central America,” Cardinal O’Malley acknowledged. “They were not evil invaders but people seeking to feed and clothe their families in safety, much like the immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Germany and Poland.”
“If they broke the law to come to this country, they were like Jean Val Jean,” he said, pointing to the protagonist of the well-known musical, Les Miserables.
“The solution is not to punish them but to initiate new and more just laws to replace a system that is broken and woefully inadequate.”
After proposals for immigration reform stalled in Congress, the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the need to address the issue in a timely manner.
Cardinal O’Malley was among a group of U.S. bishops who visited the U.S.-Mexico border in April to offer Mass in remembrance of migrants who died during their journey and to call attention to the humanitarian consequences of America’s immigration policy.
The U.S. bishops’ conference has laid out several goals for comprehensive immigration reform, including an “earned legalization program” with an “eventual path to citizenship” for those who pass background checks and pay a fine, along with “targeted, proportional, and humane” enforcement measures.
The conference has also called for a program to help low-skilled migrant workers to enter and work in the U.S. legally, as well as the restoration of due process protections for immigrants, an emphasis on family unification, and policy changes to address the deeper causes of immigration.