WASHINGTON (CNS) — Recalling that Pope Benedict XVI once said that those who live with hope live differently, Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington said faith communities have a lot to offer immigrant, refugee and other communities currently experiencing fear.
From prayers, hope, friendship, advocacy and assistance, “I think that faith communities are going to have a huge impact as we bring everyone together in prayer,” said Bishop Dorsonville during a Feb. 28 panel dealing with “Trump’s Policies, Latino Priorities and Catholic Perspectives,” a program sponsored by Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.
As some faith communities begin the Lenten journey, it’s a good idea to start accompanying those who are worried about their future, said Bishop Dorsonville, following “tensions” that have come about after recent federal policy decisions and executive orders on immigration.
Some of them sought to limit travel into the U.S. as well as the number of refugees admitted from seven majority-Muslim countries and others expanded those prioritized for deportation. The measures and their recent enforcement have caused widespread panic among immigrant and refugee communities in the U.S.; the orders on refugees have been held up in court.
If you say you’re going to give up Facebook for Lent, then use that time you would have spent online to get to know those who might be experiencing some of those anxieties, caring for them and getting engaged in what’s happening, Bishop Dorsonville said.
“Pray for them, walk with them, feel their pain, and offer it up,” he said.
In a Lent message released on Ash Wednesday, the California Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s
bishops, also asked for solidarity with migrants and refugees, saying “they are being unjustly targeted and vilified” and asked the Trump administration and Congress to put a stop to the “climate of fear” and to stop using immigration “for political advantage.”
The sentiments were echoed by Maria Teresa Kumar, president of Voto Latino, a nonprofit that encourages young Latinos to register to vote, and who was on the Feb. 28 panel with Bishop Dorsonville. Kumar said the recent environment has made it OK to scapegoat immigrant and refugee communities.
“It is not who we are as a country. It’s not basic decency what’s happening right now and unless we have our friends and our parishioners say ‘this is not who America is,’ then people are going to basically have license to continue,” she said.
On Feb. 27, the Pew Research Center released results of a survey conducted Feb. 7-12 showing that most Catholics, 62 percent, disapprove of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order that would prohibit refugees and travel from some Muslim-majority countries. But those numbers revealed some of the tension also present in Catholic churches’ pews in the U.S. on many immigration-related issues and that exists among the Catholic Church’s two largest ethnic groups. While a majority, 53 percent, of white Catholics approved of the president’s policy, 81 percent of Latino Catholics disapproved of it.
“There is right now a dichotomy between the American Latino Catholics and the white Catholics,” Kumar said, adding that she didn’t think the country is as divided as most people think, but that people are mostly reacting to “cheap politics.”
She urged others to think about how they were viewing their brothers and sisters, perhaps incited by some of the “cheap politics.”
“Somehow through this conversation about undocumented immigrants, we have allowed ourselves to consider another sector of society as less than human, as not being recognized for their humanity,” she said. “They are the backbone of America. They are the ones that take care of our children, our parents, our landscapes, our beauty and somehow we’ve made them less than human.”
Another recent survey from the Pew center conducted among Latinos, whose results were released Feb. 23, showed that Latinos are starting to worry more about their place in the country, with a growing number saying the situation of U.S. Hispanics is worsening. They remain divided about what the Trump presidency means for them. While 54 percent of Hispanics surveyed said they are confident about their place in the U.S. after Trump’s victory, 50 percent of Catholic Hispanics surveyed said they have “serious concerns about my place in America.”
Also in the survey: 48 percent of Catholic Hispanics said they are “satisfied with the way things are going in this country today” with an equal percentage saying they are dissatisfied.
“For the Latino-American community, it was a very different day, the day after the election,” Kumar said. “For most voters who cast a ballot on Nov. 8, and woke up Nov. 9, life was the same. But for immigrant communities, Muslim-American communities, American-Latino communities, Jewish communities, there was a visceral reaction.”
While the tensions are high among the Catholic Latino communities, Bishop Dorsonville said they mirror periods during President Barack Obama’s administration when people were being deported in high numbers. More than 2.5 million were deported during his two terms in office.
But there are people out there who are very afraid, Bishop Dorsonville said, adding that those work with them and among them see that they don’t see life the same way they used to and afraid even during simple actions, such as walking toward their car, riding the bus, because they worry they’ll be apprehended, or simply concerned about their children, what’s going to happen to them if they’re deported, he said. The threat is constant.
“Yes, it’s taken away from peace and calm and hope from so many lives, so many families, so many children,” he said. “It’s a very difficult time for us as a church.”