In one of the most-watched moments of the recent fall assembly of U.S. bishops in Baltimore, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) elected Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles as its vice president. The leader of the largest diocese in the United States and the first Hispanic to hold such a leadership position, Archbishop Gomez almost certainly will be elected the conference’s president three years from now.
Archbishop Gomez’s election is a significant moment for the conference — one of validation of his traditionally conservative viewpoint and a recognition of the increasingly resonant voice he has developed in recent years. Though Archbishop Gomez cannot be positioned merely as one with an opinion on Hispanic/Latino issues, he has been a strong proponent for positive, constructive immigration reform that respects the dignity and situations of all men and women, regardless of legal status. It’s a stand that has put him immediately at odds with President-elect Donald J. Trump, who has pledged to deport millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. At a prayer service Nov. 10 in Los Angeles, Archbishop Gomez told immigrants and refugees that the Church would never abandon them. “Tonight we promise our brothers and sisters who are undocumented — we will never leave you alone,” Archbishop Gomez said. “… In good times and in bad, we are with you. You are family. We are brothers and sisters.”
On the first day of their meeting, the U.S. bishops backed up Archbishop Gomez when they strongly affirmed the post-election statement of Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chair of the USCCB committee on migration, which stated the Church’s support of those migrant and refugee families living in the United States who may be targeted by the new administration.
“Be assured of our solidarity and continued accompaniment as you work for a better life,” the statement said.
The Church in the United States long has had a legacy of concern for immigrants, not just for Hispanics, but Vietnamese, Italians, Irish, Burmese and many more. A key component to that concern is not just care for the poor and the marginalized, but a desire not to see families separated, with children growing up without parents and siblings. Should the draconian suggestions put forth by the Trump campaign materialize, the Church must respond on behalf of those being targeted. As the bishops said: “We believe the family unit is the cornerstone of society, so it is vital to protect the integrity of the family. For this reason, we are reminded that behind every ‘statistic’ is a person who is a mother, father, son, daughter, sister or brother and has dignity as a child of God. ... We will work to promote humane policies that protect refugees and immigrants’ inherent dignity, keep families together, and honor and respect the laws of this nation.”
In his new apostolic letter Misericordia et misera, issued at the conclusion of the Jubilee Year of Mercy on Nov. 21, Pope Francis says that in the face of attacks against the dignity of the person, “Christian mercy responds above all with vigilance and solidarity.”
“How many situations exist today where we can restore dignity to individuals and make possible a truly humane life,” he wrote. “The social character of mercy demands that we not simply stand by and do nothing. It requires us to banish indifference and hypocrisy... . May the Holy Spirit help us to contribute actively and selflessly to making justice and a dignified life not simply clichés but a concrete commitment of those who seek to bear witness to the presence of the kingdom of God.”
Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor