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Catholic leaders to meet on immigration

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SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will host an emergency meeting with prelates from Central America as well as Vatican representatives June 1-2 in Chicago to set forth a path for the U.S. church's response to immigration.

The meeting will include representatives from the Vatican's Migrants and Refugees Section, bishops from Central America and Mexico, as well as U.S. Cardinals Blase J. Cupich of Chicago and Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J., and U.S. Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, and Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington, among others.

Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the USCCB, also is expected to address the gathering.

"We're hoping to draw attention to the fact that this is an issue for the entire church," said Bishop Seitz in a May 26 phone interview.

Dioceses around the country ideally should be thinking about their response to migrants, finding ways to be supportive of those who turn up in their midst because responding to the vulnerable is part of what the Gospel calls Christians to do, said Bishop Seitz.

"I think the church needs to have a clear teaching and moral voice (on immigration), just as we do about abortion and other issues," the bishop added.

Bill Canny, executive director of the USCCB's Migration and Refugee Services, said there's a concern by the bishops' conference as well as by Catholic and other organizations who work with migrants "that the quality of welcome our country offers these people, is not a quality welcome."

Unlike refugee resettlement, where agencies, with government and private funds, work together to integrate newcomers into a community, asylum-seekers such as the ones that have turned up in increasing numbers at the southern border have received services "focused on enforcement, making sure they get to check-ins," but there's little in terms of services, Canny said in a May 27 interview.

While they need legal support, they also come in need of food, housing and education, yet they're often released to crowded and sometimes substandard living conditions with relatives, Canny said, and get little support to adapt to their new communities as they wait the long process of having their cases adjudicated.

Part of meeting that challenge means bringing in bishops from Central America's so-called Northern Triangle — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — as well as Mexico with their USCCB counterparts to share ideas and experiences of migration as well as possible solutions from the perspective of the countries where many of the migrants to the U.S. are coming from, building relationships with them.

"They have a tremendous knowledge on the ground on these sending countries and transit countries," said Bishop Seitz. "What we're trying to do is see what we can do to help them address causes of people leaving. The church says people have the right to migrate, but they have the right to stay at home, too."

Dylan Corbett, executive director the Hope Border Institute in El Paso, in a May 25 call, said the range of experiences speaks to the urgency the USCCB sees "for the church to raise a moral message as we come out of pandemic and the displacement of people."

"This is the church saying, 'We have to meet this moment. How do we get the church to work across borders for greater collaboration? How can this be an opportunity for the church to come together to face the urgency of what's happening?' It's an opportunity for the church welcoming Christ in the stranger," he said.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021