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Bishop Paul Sirba: As we honor the right to life, consider immigration

As we begin the New Year 2017, we pray the Lord gives us the courage to welcome every stranger as Christ in our midst. January begins with the great Church feast days celebrating life, family and the stranger.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

We began the year with the Feast of Mary the Mother of God. I am moved by the words of a spiritual writer by the name of Thomas Merton, who once wrote, “The Annunciation was not so much a vision as an earthquake in which God moved the universe and unsettled the spheres, and the beginning and end of all things came before her in her deepest heart.” The life in the womb was none other than the Word made flesh, and “God awoke in the heart of the girl of Nazareth and moved within her like a giant” (”The Ascent of Truth,” p. 317).

On Jan. 22, we will board the bus to the State Capital again to witness to all human life in the womb. Please consider joining us. In addition to all the wonderful prolife work going on in the diocese, we will also affirm and support lives born and pray to end abortion.

The human right to life — which is the foundation of every other right — implies, among other things, the right to emigrate. It is not an absolute right, but a dignified existence that preserves life requires food, shelter, clothing and opportunity for work. Sadly, so much of our world faces war, violence against the human person, religious persecution and a lack of basic necessities for life. People strive for a better life for their families. Can you blame them?

Since 2009, the Catholic bishops of Minnesota have designated the Feast of Our Lord’s Epiphany, this year Jan. 8, as “Immigration Sunday.” It coincides with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Migration Week 2017. We can never forget that the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph left Bethlehem out of fear for the life of the Christ Child. They fled to Egypt, a foreign country and a place of refuge. Can we forget the needs of our brothers and sisters in similar circumstances today? “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).

Pope Francis is the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina. Spanish is his first language. While his conviction about immigration is personal, it has also been formed in continuity with Popes Leo XIII, St. John XXIII, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and the Church’s social teaching. He knows that forced displacement of people is at the highest level since World War II, with more than 65 million people displaced around the world.

In his letter for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees (Jan. 15), he felt compelled to draw attention to the reality of child migrants, especially the ones who are alone. Children are increasingly at risk to human trafficking, forced labor and separation from their families.

When Pope Francis visited the Italian island of Lampedusa, he reminded the world that we have become a “society that has forgotten the experience of weeping,” of “suffering with” displaced persons seeking a better life for their families. He called on the Lord to “wipe out [whatever attitude] of Herod that remains in our hearts” and to ask for the grace to “weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty in the world, in ourselves, and even in those who anonymously make socioeconomic decisions that open [the] way to tragedies” that erect barriers to authentic human development for our migrant brothers and sisters.

The Church has a responsibility, based on the teachings and example of Jesus, to treat everyone as a brother and sister. Jesus demanded that we love even our enemies. The U.S. bishops don’t condone illegal immigration or unlawful entry that bypasses our nation’s immigration laws. The USCCB supports our nation’s duty to regulate its borders for the common good, ensuring the safety of our people. But we also argue that our immigration system is out of touch with many present realities and needs to be reformed. I’m told close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents face interminable separations, sometimes of 20 years or longer, due to backlogs of available visas. Our economy makes use of foreign labor but doesn’t provide sufficient means for the workers to do so legally. Millions of people live within our borders in an unauthorized capacity, and we haven’t figured out what to do about that. We need to find a way forward.

I am grateful for the work of the Minnesota Catholic Conference and encourage you to check out the materials they have prepared for this year’s Immigration Sunday. You can learn much about the issue by visiting the online resources on the Minnesota Catholic Conference Advocacy Area pages: Migration ( migration) or Immigration Sunday MN (

There is so much to do and reflect upon. We are also asked to pray and live mercifully, that when we encounter the other, we see in him or her the face of Jesus Christ.

Bishop Paul D. Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.