Pope Francis spoke out against anti-immigrant hatred this weekend, challenging Europeans who are quick to demonize newcomers and echoing U.S. bishops calling for compassionate action on immigration reform in America.
Speaking on Sunday after a week of anti-immigration protests and clashes between native Italians and North African refugees in Rome, Francis told an assembled crowd in St. Peter’s Square that Christians should respond to the growing “social emergency” in the region with civil discussion.
“The important thing is to not give into the temptation to confrontation … [and also] to reject all violence,” he said. “It is possible to dialogue, to listen to one another, to make plans together, and in this way to overcome suspicion and prejudice, and to build a coexistence that is ever more secure, peaceful, and inclusive.”
Francis went on to encourage his fellow Catholics to pursue empathetic solutions to immigration struggles so that “there might not be confrontation, but encounter,” and suggested the faithful seek dialogue with local officials wherever possible — including “in the parish hall.”
Francis’ comments were primarily geared towards Italian citizens, but his statements reflected a long history of advocating on behalf of immigrants more globally — including those within the United States. Francis’ first trip outside the Vatican was to confront immigration issues on the nearby island of Lampedusa, for example, and he declared in July that the recent surge of unaccompanied Central American children fleeing to the United States to escape gang violence should be “welcomed and protected.”
The pontiff’s pro-immigrant stance — which is itself rooted in a long history of Catholic support for immigrants — is also increasingly reflected in the work and political advocacy of American bishops. Prominent Catholic clergy were deeply involved in last year’s debate over a possible comprehensive immigration reform bill, and many followed Francis’ lead this summer by speaking up for unaccompanied minors from Central America. More recently, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the migration committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, effectively endorsed a rumored forthcoming executive action from President Barack Obama that could provide legal documents for millions of immigrants, saying in a press conference last week, “it would be derelict not to support administrative actions … which would provide immigrants and their families legal protection.”
Other bishops have also spoken out in support of the President acting alone on immigration, with Arizona Bishop Gerald Kicanas telling Crux that “It may be necessary for the president to step up and to act in a way that addresses the needs of families.” In addition, Elizondo also teamed up with Bishop Kevin Vann, chair of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, to quietly send a letter in September to Jeh Johnson, Secretary Department of Homeland Security, addressing immigration issues. The letter outlined specific strategies for helping immigrants and asked the secretary to make moves with or without the aid of Congress.
“[W]e write to urge you to use your authority to protect undocumented individuals and families as soon as possible, within the limits of your executive authority,” the letter read. “With immigration reform legislation stalled in Congress, our nation can no longer wait to end the suffering of family separation caused by our broken immigration system.”