CHICAGO (CNS) — Just as the “perilous state of the natural and social environments” drove Pope Francis to speak of “our one, shared common home,” so too does the worldwide aspect of migration “and desperate flight,” a Vatican official told a Chicago conference Sept. 21.
“All local churches are affected by the reality of human mobility, as sending communities, communities of transit and communities of destination,” said Cardinal Michael Czerny, undersecretary for migrants and refugees at the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
The cardinal made the comments in an address during Catholic Extension’s ninth biennial conference, which was organized under the theme, “Let Us Dream Together: Pope Francis’ Vision for the Church.”
Attendees were the bishops of the U.S. mission dioceses served by Catholic Extension.
The Chicago-based organization has been supporting the work and ministries of the nation’s mission dioceses since its founding in 1905. It raises funds to help build faith communities and churches in these dioceses, which are rural, cover a large geographic area, and have limited personnel and pastoral resources.
Cardinal Czerny’s talk was titled “Building a Church that Goes to the Peripheries,” and examined how best to serve those on the margins in any country.
“As applied by Pope Francis to society, to certain people and places within the territory of each diocese — or of the whole church in a country — ‘periphery’ describes a people’s condition and indeed suffering,” he said, “but also identifies what an individual Christian or Christian community can perceive, appreciate and respond to.”
“No one is useless, in the words of ‘Fratelli Tutti’ (Pope Francis’ encyclical), and no one is expendable,” Cardinal Czerny said. “Each of us, moreover, can learn something from others. This means finding ways to include those on the peripheries of life.”
“I invite you to recall exclusion and periphery in your own experience and what you have observed, perhaps in the poor, remote and under-resourced dioceses you have known,” he said. “Was a line drawn between ‘us’ over here and ‘them’ over there?”
Migration “is an element in the personal or family history” of most people, if not all, the cardinal continued, and in the case of the United States, various waves of migration have played a large role in its history, he noted, especially the most recent arrival of Afghan refugees and “the constant, fully understandable pressure on the southern U.S. border.”
“Along the way, migrations have been a major contributor to the face of the church here,” he added.
“How shall we, particularly as bishops, regard the vulnerable people on the move within American diocesan territories?” Cardinal Czerny asked. “Their movement can take place in different directions: arriving and in transit; staying permanently or departing for good, perhaps to return to a previous homeland; or seasonal comings-and-goings.”
The first “obvious” step, he said, “is to welcome those who are in flight, in jeopardy, in need of a new and better place.”
In Catholic social teaching terms, he said, “we can link welcoming to the virtue of solidarity — the notion that we are all responsible for all, not just people within our own borders. Those borders can be national frontiers, but also the dividing lines between adjacent communities.”
He added that all borders “are human contrivances, and we have to be careful. God did not draw those lines.”
Next comes the need to protect the newcomers as they face major changes in their new country.
“They may have difficulty escaping an oppressive past. They may be easily confused or lost in unfamiliar surroundings,” the cardinal said. “As we have seen in our migrant and refugee research, unprotected new arrivals can become ensnared in human trafficking.”
They also can face suspicion from a community and could face angry rhetoric and even physical violence, so “it is vital to stand up” for these newcomers “and protect them,” Cardinal Czerny said.
On behalf of immigrants, diocese also must promote respect for human rights and support people’s “right to migrate in times of need.”
He also pointed out that states also “should guarantee the right not to have to migrate. All people must have the right to remain in their homelands, living lives of dignity, peace and security.”
“To integrate is both the fourth and the ultimate moment in the process” in welcoming newcomers, Cardinal Czerny said. “The last step is the beautiful but slow process of going from ‘them’ to ‘us,’ from dependents to full participants, from ‘objects’ of our generosity — or even legal responsibility — to fellow citizens and, indeed, fellow ‘integrators’ to others.
“Another dimension of integration is mutual enrichment. … It’s that marvelous two-way movement from knowing about one another, to actually knowing one another,” he explained. “To ‘integrate’ aims ultimately at friendship. That is the blessed state that Pope Francis constantly encourages everyone to pursue.”
“Even if your diocese is not on the border,” he told the audience of bishops, “there are vulnerable people on the move throughout U.S. society, but — typical of people on the periphery — they’re usually invisible. So the first step, in each diocese, is to see them, encounter them, share their experience and eventually take a few steps in their shoes.”
“Migration is both a reflection of a world yet in growing pains and a call to deeper solidarity,” the cardinal said. “Let us not fail to notice this mysterious stranger in our midst, calling the churches of north and south together for a common testimony, a common witness and common work to address the injustices at the root of migration — indifference, alienation and misery.”
The cardinal also touched on how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic “has been testing the physical, mental and social endurance of entire nations. Like a magnifying glass, it has revealed the weaknesses of social organization and the vulnerability of many people.”
Each mission diocese has its own peripheries, he said, and challenged the bishops to consider “who are on the margins, excluded, overlooked, invisible” in their dioceses. “How can you notice or perceive them? How to understand and appreciate them? How to respond evangelically and ecclesially to them?”
Cardinal Czerny reminded them that Pope Francis “dreams of a church that’s like a field hospital whose compassionate engagement is modeled by the good Samaritan, a church that ‘extends itself’ to the peripheries.”