Rhode Island diocese welcomes immigration dialogue

The Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island was built upon and prospered because of the faith, sacrifices and contributions of many ethnic communities, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin explained during a recent symposium entitled, “Immigrants and Immigration in the 21st Century,”at Brown University.

According the U.S. Census Bureau, 133, 000 Rhode Island residents are foreign-born. According to the Pew Center, 20,000-30,000 of the state’s foreign-born residents are unauthorized immigrants. Brown University offered an opportunity for researchers, faith leaders and policy makers to come together as a community to discuss local views and attitudes toward immigrants and immigration policy in the state in hopes to work toward a greater awareness of the issue.

The daylong conference focused immigration issues inspired by a new survey conducted by the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, and the John Hazen White Public Opinion Laboratory at Brown. The survey reflected the views of Rhode Islanders on issues of immigration in their community and beyond.

Bishop Tobin served as the keynote speaker for the conference, offering his reflections on the issue. He emphasized that the Catholic Church has been concerned with the immigration question and responding to the needs of the immigrant community for a long time and added that the Church has continued to be blessed and enriched by the immigrant community.

“Throughout its history in our nation and in this community the Church has welcomed and ministered to the historic immigration of these cultures,” he said. “Despite the various languages, cultures and traditions of these very diverse immigrant groups, they were united by a common Christian faith and the desire to improve their lives and contribute to the well-being of their new home in the United States and the State of Rhode Island.”

The bishop explained that the church's dedication to the immigrant community is an act of faith grounded in several important fundamental principles, including: the dignity of each and every human person as created in the image and likeness of God; the teachings and example of Jesus Christ; the Christian principle that recognizes the strength and value of unity in diversity; and the wide-ranging testimony of the Sacred Scripture and teaching tradition of the church.

The bishop referred to the Statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, entitled “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us,” to help summarize the Catholic views relative to immigration.

“Without condoning undocumented migration, the church supports the human rights of all people and offers them pastoral care, education and social services, no matter what the circumstances of entry into this country, and it works for the human dignity of all - especially those who find themselves in desperate circumstances,” Bishop Tobin shared. “We also recognize and assert that all human persons, created as they are in the image of God, possess a fundamental dignity that gives rise to a more compelling claim to the conditions worthy of human life.”

Alexandra Filindra, researcher at the Taubman Center at Brown University expressed the important need to invite the faith leaders of the community to the symposium.

“We really need to hear what Bishop Tobin and the faith leaders have to say because it is very divisive issue in our state,” Filindra said. “I think that the Bishop’s message was very important. We need to follow the principled ways that have been set out for us on this issue.”

Lucy Boltz, a junior at Brown University, said that it was a great idea to involve policy makers, religious figures and the community in the symposium to get a variety of perspectives on the issue and to promote immigration reform that is good for the immigrants and the United States.

“We are trying to work against the narrative of hate,” said Boltz, an Ethnic Studies major from Southern California. "There are skewed views as to how many undocumented immigrants there are. The more information people have about immigrants and what they have contributed to the state, the better off we will be."

As the debate on immigration continues, Bishop Tobin expressed the need for fair, effective and comprehensive immigration reform and encouraged respectful and productive discourse, avoiding stereotyping of either side.

“The footprints of the historic immigrant Church in this community, as they are throughout our nation, are all around us,” he said. “The Church continues to welcome, work with and be blessed by the immigrants coming to our nation and state. It is a phenomenon we shouldn't fear or reject, but rather welcome and embrace.”

Printed with permission from the Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island.

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