‘Be Not Afraid’ To Protect The Immigrant And Imprisoned

Friday, 27 October 2017 - 

This year’s Respect Life Program theme, “Be Not Afraid,” was recently announced. The Respect Life Program’s purpose is to “help Catholics understand, value, and become engaged with supporting the God-given dignity of every person—which naturally leads to protecting the gift of every person’s life.” As previously stated, my October columns are dedicated to the theme “Be Not Afraid.” This column focuses on protecting all those that we find on the peripheries and margins of life, especially the immigrant and imprisoned.

Before reflecting on those living on the peripheries, it is important to consider the scope of the Respect Life Program. The Respect Life Program draws our attention to the issue of human dignity, in its broadest sense. It can sometimes seem like our attention and work focuses on abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and euthanasia, to the detriment of other social justice issues. While there is certainly good cause to give primary attention to issues like abortion, physician-assisted suicide, and euthanasia, it is critical that we address other concerns about human life.

In Matthew 25, Jesus draws our attention to, among others, the immigrant and the imprisoned. The Lord reminds us that our actions toward or against these persons are also actions toward or against Jesus himself: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Our actions have bearing on our destiny and salvation.

The Immigrant. Catholic social teaching recognizes some basic principles for consideration when discussing the immigrant and immigration policy: 1) people have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families; 2) a country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration; and 3) a country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy.

Striking the prudent balance between these principles in our daily life is where the rubber meets the road. Nevertheless, there are always concrete steps that can be taken to care for the immigrant.

For example, Catholic Social Services is one of the main entities in Nebraska that assists refugees. Catholic Social Services can always use additional material goods to assist refugee families as they transition into a new culture and home.

Also, throughout my time working in youth ministry, I noticed that many first-generation immigrant families struggled, in certain ways, to assimilate into American culture. For instance, there often existed a cultural gap between the parents and children. The parents tended to lack knowledge or familiarity with American culture, while their children were absorbed in the culture (both the good and bad aspects). Assisting immigrant parents to bridge the cultural divide empowers them as the primary formative educator of their children. This strengthens family life which provides spiritual grace and societal benefits.

The Imprisoned. A constant conversation within federal and state politics is criminal justice reform. The aims of criminal justice are to impose justly retributive punishments, foster rehabilitation of the offender, deter and mitigate criminal action, and restore society. Like immigration, living the principles can take on a variety of concrete applications.

In recent years, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and its articulation of Catholic social teaching has focused on rehabilitation of the criminal. The Church has recognized that criminal offenses, especially violent offenses, are often perpetrated by those who come from family breakdown and spiritual brokenness. While an individual’s circumstances do not necessarily negate their criminal liability, they should be considered as we implement public policy that aims to rehabilitate criminal offenders.

The Church beautifully provides in the task of rehabilitation through prison ministry. By visiting the imprisoned, establishing a relationship, listening to prisoners, offering prayers and the Sacraments, the people of God provide concrete opportunities for reconciliation and rehabilitation of prisoners.

We must ponder and discern our care for the immigrant and imprisoned so that we can fulfill the words of Jesus and to be “little Christs” to those on peripheries of society. Remember that the work ahead is not for the faint of heart and, for this reason, our Lord calls us to “be not afraid.” Take courage, for Jesus is with us until the end of time!