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A message from the bishop

As a Church, we stand with our immigrant brothers & sisters (May 2017)

My dear friends,
 
Approximately one out of every three Catholics in our diocese is of Latino or Hispanic origin. This means that many of our parishes and communities are directly impacted by the recent executive orders regarding immigration. Pastors tell me stories from our parishes where people constantly live in fear, not knowing if they will return home each night, or of children filled with anxiety because they don’t know if their parent(s) will be here one moment and gone the next.
 
Christ shows us in his life and in his word that we need to welcome the stranger and treat him/her with respect. The Gospels reveal how Jesus answered this call. We are reminded of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well; the healing of the Roman centurion’s servant; and the story of the good Samaritan. These Gospel stories underscore the importance of encountering and embracing others who may not look, dress or act the same as us.
 
With this background in mind, I offer the following pastoral letter to all Catholics in the Diocese of Grand Rapids, but most importantly to our immigrant brothers and sisters.
 
How we treat the least of our brothers and sisters is the measure of our authenticity as Catholic Christians. From beginning to end, the Scriptures abound with commands to assist the poor, widows, orphans, strangers and aliens:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” (Ex 22:20) “When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.” (Lv 19:34) “You must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” (Dt 10:19) “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Mt 25:35)
 
Times have changed since these words were spoken and written. There were no fixed national borders in biblical times, no passports or visas, no checkpoints or immigration officers. What has not changed, however, is the plight of so many people whose desperation moves them to risk a dangerous journey to a new country in order to flee war, violence or crime, or to seek work because they are unable to feed their families in their home country. The United States has become a destination of refuge and hope for millions of immigrants, many of them currently in this country without legal documentation. Our response to our immigrant population must consider people’s right to live in peace and to share in the goods of
the earth that belong to all God’s people.
 
Our attitude must also recognize the considerable contribution that immigrants, both documented and undocumented, make to this country. Immigrant labor is essential for the well-being of the economy. Immigrants pay taxes; immigrants open businesses; immigrants buy goods; immigrants make our cities safer; immigrants are our neighbors, friends and family members.
 
Because of these important contributions, our nation’s response to immigrants who are undocumented
cannot be simply deportation. Deportations create far more problems than they solve. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has long called for a just and equitable reform of the country’s  immigration laws that, among other things, would grant those immigrants living in the country without authorization a path to be able to live and work in the United States legally.
 
The Catholic Church in the United States will continue to advocate on behalf of the immigrant population of our country. In doing so, we are being faithful to the biblical mandate to include all in the love, mercy, compassion and justice of God. 
 
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak