Bishops celebrate National Migration Week, highlight overlooked ‘right to remain’

national life monument "Angels Unawares," a work by Timothy Schmalz on The Catholic University of America's campus, depicts 140 immigrants. | Credit: Peter Pinedo/CNA

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is highlighting the overlooked right to remain in one’s country during its weeklong celebration of National Migration Week from Sept. 18–24.

“For millennia, people have been forced to flee their homelands, seeking safety and security, because of factors beyond their control,” El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz, the chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, said in a statement ahead of the celebration.

Bishop Seitz referenced the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, in which the child Christ, the Blessed Mother, and St. Joseph were forced to flee to Egypt when King Herod intended to kill Christ by slaughtering infants. He said the flight “was not the result of a free decision, nor were many of the migrations that marked the history of the people of Israel.”

National Migration Week encourages Catholics to reflect on challenges that affect migrants, refugees, and those harmed by forced displacement, according to the USCCB. The week is also meant to celebrate the ways in which newcomers enrich communities and how the faithful are called to welcome them as members of the same human family.

The celebration finishes on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which was established by the Holy See more than a century ago.

“Through our belief in Jesus Christ, we are compelled to respond with charity toward those who must uproot their lives in search of refuge, but efforts to manage migration — even when predicated on the common good — require that we also address the coercive forces driving people to migrate,” Seitz said.

“Only through collective efforts to alleviate these forces and by establishing the conditions required for integral human development can people truly avail themselves of the right to remain in their country of birth,” the bishop continued. “May God, through the [intercession] of Our Lady of Guadalupe, sustain us in these pursuits and protect those whose lives depend upon their success.”

The USCCB’s statement reflects the theme for this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which is “Free to choose whether to migrate or stay,” which Pope Francis announced in May.

“The decision to migrate should always be free, yet in many cases, even in our day, it is not,” Pope Francis said in his announcement. “Conflicts, natural disasters, or more simply the impossibility of living a dignified and prosperous life in one’s native land is forcing millions of persons to leave. ... Migrants flee because of poverty, fear, or desperation. Eliminating these causes and thus putting an end to forced migration calls for shared commitment on the part of all, in accordance with the responsibilities of each.”

The USCCB said the right to remain in one’s natural homeland and not be forcefully displaced is a right that is often overlooked in the immigration debate in the United States. 

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