Making Room for María and José at the Inn

US Bishop Promotes a Rethink on Immigration This Advent

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By Genevieve Pollock

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas, DEC. 10, 2008 ( This Advent, parishes and church groups in the Little Rock Diocese are united in a spiritual program focused on studying immigration in light of Scripture and prayer.

Bishop Anthony Taylor initiated the Advent program in conjunction with his pastoral letter, «I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me: A Pastoral Letter on the Human Rights of Immigrants,» issued to the people of the diocese on the Feast of Christ the King.

In a recorded homily presented at every parish that day, the prelate explained that when he was named bishop a few months earlier, the first question he was asked was about the human rights of undocumented immigrants. «I believe that the major current issue about which American Catholics are most confused today has to do with immigration,» he affirmed in the letter’s preface.

In this 30-page document, he stated that it was not his intent to propose specific legislative solutions, but to teach «the full truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ courageously, in season and out of season, especially regarding the teaching of the Church in those controversial areas of faith or morality about which there is confusion among the faithful.»

The bishop’s letter outlined the relevant economic, moral, biblical and theological principles as a foundation for the issue, and then applied these basic principles to the reality of undocumented immigration.

He pointed out that there are 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, and expelling all these people «is not a realistic option historically, economically or socially.»

«Our only real choice,» said the prelate, «is whether to facilitate this process for the common good or try to create as much misery as possible — and reap the undesirable consequences.» He wrote a section of the letter on the common good of all people, what it means and how national borders and laws should be at its service.

«Unlike the right to life itself,» he said in his homily, «which is absolute, all other rights are limited by the common good and so there are instances where the common good might prevent or restrict immigration.»

Bishop Taylor concluded the letter by affirming that the Church does not promote illegal immigration though it works to eliminate its causes, and it «does support those who have no other alternative in the exercise of their basic human right to immigrate when circumstances so require.»

The letter was sent to the state’s Congress representatives, as the immigration issue is expected to be addressed at the general assembly in the state capitol this January.

However, the bishop expressed the hope that a change of hearts will take precedence over a change of laws. He explained, «Of course our legislators are just like the rest of us, and so the place to begin is with ourselves, our own hearts and our own parishes, and our own discomfort in dealing with another culture and immigrant group, our own fear that we’re going to lose something somehow — say fear of losing our identity or our control of the situation — and we forget about the human dignity and the human rights of the other person.»

Advent program

The Advent study guide adds a spiritual dimension to study of the letter, and it is designed to be implemented in small groups or among existing organizations in the Church.

The prelate chose the Advent season for this study because it is a time of hope. He said: «Jesus’ parents found no warm welcome in Bethlehem, no room in the inn.

«The study guide will lead us to ask what changes we need to make in our nation, in our parishes and in our own hearts to ensure that today’s Marys and Josephs — today’s Marías and Josés — receive from us a warm welcome truly worthy of the Savior whose birth we celebrate on Christmas.

«One of the constant features of the history of American immigration is the process of conversion whereby the receiving population learns to soften its heart and open its arms to welcome the newcomer. As we have seen with the earlier waves of immigrants, this process takes time — time for the immigrants to assimilate and time for the receiving population to become comfortable with the newcomers.»

Bishop Taylor concluded his address by encouraging members of his diocese to be «Christ for others.»

In this,» he affirmed, «God will use us to be not only a light to our nation — enlightening others about human rights in the abstract: the way of truth and life — but also more importantly a source of love, love that banishes fear, love that brings hope and healing, and in this way become a model for what all of American society is called to be.»

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