CNA Staff, – During a webinar on human dignity this week, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles reflected on immigration and the Christian’s obligation to love.
Gomez, who is president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, spoke on Jan. 12 at the 21st annual Winter Conference for the Notre Dame de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture. He highlighted the dangers a secular society poses to a culture’s understanding of human dignity, especially toward immigrants.
“As we know, the condition of migrants and refugees has been one of the key moral concerns of [Pope Francis’] pontificate. And it is true: forced migration, mass movements of populations, is one of the signs of our times. Not since World War II has the world faced this kind of refugee crisis,” he said.
“We are all brothers and sisters, and we need to treat others as we want to be treated. As faithful citizens, we need to work to ensure that our nation is welcoming and generous, that we never close our hearts or turn our backs on people in need.”
The theme of the conference is “We Belong to Each Other,” which is taken from a quote by Saint Mother Teresa: “Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Taking place Jan. 12-14, the webinar includes speakers such as noted moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, Notre Dame law school dean Marcus Cole, and California State Poet Laureate Dana Gioia.
In his talk, Gomez reflected on the Christian obligation to welcome the stranger.
“As Christians, we worship a God who has revealed himself as Love. And as Christians, we know that human beings are made in the image of this God, in the image of Love,” he said.
“We are created out of love. And we are made to love. To love as Jesus loved, and as Mother Teresa and the saints love. Whenever I hear this story, I am reminded of that beautiful saying from St. Augustine, ‘If you see love, you see the Trinity.’ This is the truth about God, the truth about the human person.”
Gomez has advocated for immigrant and refugee rights for over 20 years. He noted that the United Nations estimates that 80 million people in the world have been forcibly displaced by war, persecution, social unrest, and economic distress – including about 40 million children.
“They are living on the run; they are exploited by human smugglers and some of them are being sold into slavery,” he said.
“Their living conditions have been made even more desperate now, because of the pandemic and the closing of borders,” he added. “But the global refugee crisis – like so many of the troubles in the world – is more than a failure of politics or diplomacy. It’s a failure of human fraternity and solidarity. It’s a failure of love.”
The archbishop pointed to Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, Fratelli tutti. He said the pope has issued this encyclical as a missionary appeal to share God’s love in a heavily secular culture.
Catholics must respond to this calling by sharing the truth about God’s love and the Christian family, he said.
“Unless we know these truths, we cannot understand our Christian commitments – for immigrants and refugees, for the poor, the unborn, the imprisoned, the sick, the environment. Unless we know these truths, we cannot understand how to create a society that will be good for human beings. “
“To put our challenge in its simplest terms: unless we believe that we have a Father in heaven, there’s no necessary reason for us [to] treat one another as brothers and sisters on earth,” he said.
During his many years advocating for immigration reform, the archbishop said he has repeatedly encountered the question – “What do we owe to the migrant?” Simply put, he said, Christians are obliged to show love, recognizing that an immigrant’s dignity is not qualified by his legal or social status.
“Love means remembering that they are souls, not statistics. They are men and women and children with dreams and hopes, no different than you,” he explained.
“Every immigrant and refugee is a child of God, made in his image. Every one of them has rights and dignity that can never be denied,” he said. “And that’s true whether they are in this country legally or not; and that’s true whether they’re eligible for asylum under our laws or not.”
Amid an atmosphere of political tension and division, Gomez challenged Catholics to remember that God is the Father of all people and to bear witness to God’s love.
“We need to tell our neighbors about the God who is love. We need to tell them the good news that we are all children of God, that there is a greatness to human life,” he said. “That every one of us is created in God’s image, endowed with God-given rights and responsibilities, and called to a transcendent destiny.”