On Monday evening, St. Thomas More parish in the south Denver suburb of Centennial was packed with a standing room only crowd who came bearing their concerns over the nation’s growing immigration problem. Archbishop Charles Chaput was on hand to answer questions and reiterate his call for civility and compassion in the heated national debate.
The Archdiocese of Denver called the event a town hall meeting; the second so far in a series aimed at emphasizing “the importance of civil dialogue when discussing comprehensive immigration reform.”
According to the Denver Rocky Mountain News, tensions ran high as the largely Anglo audience expressed fears and concerns ranging from a perceived reluctance to learn English to the effect of immigration on local hospitals and schools.
The crowd also showed its support however, for several immigrant workers who spoke out at the forum.
Greeted by a large round of applause, one audience member said, "My parents came from Mexico…I'm no bum. I've worked since I was an infant. I went to Korea. There are good, hardworking Mexicans."
In an effort to quell fears and confusion, Archbishop Chaput encouraged legitimate debate on all levels. "I think we're all confused," the Archbishop said, encouraging one audience member to articulate her personal concerns to her Mexican friends.
The Archbishop--himself from Native American heritage--added that he believes fear and the 9-11 disaster largely enflamed the immigration problem, but assured, "I think we can manage it. My ancestors - I'm an American Indian - we can handle this; we're a big country."
Asked what the country’s Catholic bishops are doing about the situation in Mexico, where the vast bulk of the U.S.’s illegal immigrants come from, the Archbishop said that "Bishops are encouraging the government not to be corrupt and to create jobs.”
“They're not encouraging people to leave and come here,” he stressed, “and it's not sensible for you to think that they are."
The statewide Colorado Catholic Conference is organizing the forum series. Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs has held a number of similar forums in his own diocese while Pueblo’s Bishop Arthur Tafoya is planning events in that diocese.