Editorial: Who is my neighbor?

The April 5 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid on a meatpacking facility in Grainger County, Tennessee, in which 10 people were arrested, was nothing new. Similar raids have been conducted under the last several administrations, going back decades. Nor was it unusual for Bishop Richard F. Stika of Knoxville to speak up in its wake.

“For many years now, I have advocated for action by government leaders to come up with laws that protect our national identity and sovereign borders and also recognize America’s undeniable role as a sanctuary for those who arrived here many years ago with no intent to do harm. I remain disappointed that no common-sense solutions have been agreed to. In the meantime, families suffer and people live in the shadows,” the bishop said in an April 7 statement. Bishop Stika invited people to support the Displaced Family Assistance Fund at Catholic Charities of East Tennessee, which would directly serve the families in their community impacted by the raid.

Bishop Stika’s words should serve as a reminder to Catholics and others that, like so many across the country, their community is also directly impacted by immigration issues. The Church’s reasoned, pastoral response and advocacy consistently has acknowledged the right of the nation to control its borders while also reminding all Americans of our obligation to build up and defend the fabric of families and communities — providing a positive approach to an issue that politicians too often have used to divide.

The Church’s leaders, as Bishop Stika also noted, consistently have called for comprehensive solutions to a system that has left many of our neighbors in the shadows, working jobs where they are vulnerable to exploitation and, more than ever, fearful of contacting law enforcement. The bishops’ long-standing call for policies that protect family unity and their rejection of “enforcement-only” measures stands in contrast to the recent proposal by the U.S. Attorney General that parents and children be separated at the border, seemingly as a deterrent to crossing the border illegally.

The positions of the bishops aren’t merely an example of the Church wading into the waters of policy and politics as an exercise in evangelization — as a living out of a value in our tradition that stretches back to Abraham’s welcoming of three strangers in the desert. It is a recognition of the obligations Catholics have to recognize the dignity of all people, to strengthen families and to care for the forgotten — obligations on which our very salvation relies.

We are reminded of this as recently as this year’s letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Placuit Deo, which speaks of salvation in terms of a “salvific sacramental economy” outside of oneself that “requires, in a particular way, the care of all suffering humanity through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”

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Political positions, taken up by officials and enacted as policy, beget real consequences in people’s lives. The Church consistently has challenged us to view all of those around us as our neighbors. While we may be tempted to ask, “And who is my neighbor?” (see Lk 10:29), Pope Francis reminded us in his 2018 World Day of Peace message to embrace “all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands.” To them, he said, we are called to open our hearts and make a “concrete commitment” of attention, assistance and resources. It’s what neighbors do.

OSV Editorial Board: Don Clemmer, Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott Richert, York Young