BALTIMORE — Less than a week after the conclusion of a divisive presidential election, U.S. Catholic bishops on Monday reaffirmed their support for the nation’s immigrants and refugees in a message to President-elect Donald Trump.
The bishops — gathering for their annual fall meeting — urged Trump to recognize the role immigrants play in American life, and promises that the Church will “work to promote humane policies that protect refugee and immigrants’ inherent dignity, keep families together, and honor and respect the laws of this nation.”
Immigration was among the hotly contested issues in the 2016 campaign with Trump promising to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, among other proposals.
The U.S. bishops said that assisting people fleeing violence is part of Catholic tradition.
“Today, with more than 65 million people forcibly displaced from their homes, the need to welcome refugees and provide freedom from persecution is more acute than ever and 80 of our dioceses across the country are eager to continue this wonderful act of accompaniment born of our Christian faith,” the bishops said.
“We stand ready to work with a new administration to continue to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans. A duty to welcome and protect newcomers, particularly refugees, is an integral part of our mission to help our neighbors in need.”
Vatican ambassador: U.S. needs mercy after election
The meeting opened with a lengthy address by Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States, focused on mercy and ministering to youth as the church segues from the Jubilee of Mercy to the next synod on youth, faith, and vocational discernment.
“Following the very long process which has led to the recent national election,” Archbishop Pierre said, “I honestly think that mercy is what this country needs to heal the wounds of division after a polarizing campaign. Many Americans have personally reached out to me to voice their frustration with what has been happening. As Catholics and shepherds, we need to give witness to hope, to carry on through the coming days, so that we can truly be ‘one nation, under God.’”
The apostolic nuncio then talked at length about the unique challenges of ministering to youth, addressing the way they “generally tend to place everything in the present moment. Many young people are affected by a sense of being in constant flux and are unable to make a permanent choice. Furthermore, young people want to affirm their own person, while resisting uniformity of education and social pressures.” He analyzed the plight of youth in detail, from their need to mark out space and identities for themselves with products and tattoos, to the numbing effect of a dependency upon electronic communication and virtual realities.
All of this must be understood if the Church is going to minister to youth and guide them on their path to vocations, the nuncio said.
“In effect, the whole Church and each of its members must decide to go to and walk with our young people, to each and everyone, from an awareness of carrying out a prophetic task,” he said. “The most important thing that a young person needs to feel saved by Christ is to experience his love and mercy directly.”
Archbishop Kurtz: ‘Seek the common good’ after campaign
Outgoing USCCB president Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., began his farewell address by reminding his brother bishops that “serving Christ is not simply a beautiful idea. It shows itself in concrete actions.”
Archbishop Kurtz recalled episodes from his ministry, from natural disaster in the Philippines to speaking with an unaccompanied minor crossing into the U.S. from Mexico. All of them are “challenges that threaten our global community, especially as we stand up for those persecuted for their religion … and tirelessly promote the dignity of every person.”
Archbishop Kurtz completed his speech by remarking on the current state of the nation.
“There’s been unprecedented lack of civility and even rancor in the national elections just completed. Now we are required to move forward with a respect for those in public office as we seek the common good based on truth and charity, without imposing but strongly proposing as we have done now for 99 years. We enter dialogue with the Trump administration and leadership in both houses of Congress — seeking as in the past concrete actions.”
Woo gives emotional address
The emotional highlight of the day was a presentation by Carolyn Woo, outgoing president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services. After speaking about the work CRS did on the frontlines fighting ebola, caring for people, and even providing dignified burials of contaminated remains, Woo broke down in tears recalling her time “at the foot of the cross.”
“Evil is no longer abstract” to me, she said, recalling the little boy whose belly was swollen from a shrapnel wound and the family who had a member held captive by ISIS for a year.
“Original sin was also kind of abstract,” she added, “but now I see it in the way we are divided and cannot come together because of our differences. I have seen people needing to win so that we cannot work together, we cannot compromise.”
Immediately following Woo’s talk, Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City said that he’d just received an email from a conservative Catholic group doing an “expose” on the work of CRS claiming they violate Catholic teachings. Archbishop Coakley said to applause that bishops could be confident that CRS is “Catholic from top to bottom.”
The day concluded with a Mass at St. Peter Claver Church in Baltimore, a historically black Catholic church.
On Tuesday, the bishops will elect officers, including a new president.