Seeking a response to immigration in light of Catholic social teaching

“I have never heard this topic addressed at our parish; I am going to call my pastor this afternoon!”

The topic was “immigration” and the comment came in the midst of small group discussions at an initial meeting of the newly developing “Catholic Coalition for Migrants and Refugees.”

Mark Peters, province JPR director

The group is so new that it really doesn’t have a name yet; “Catholic Coalition for Migrants and Refugees” is just a placeholder for now.

Approximately 75 people, representing a wide variety of Catholic parishes, organizations and religious communities throughout the Milwaukee area, gathered July 11 at the Provincial Conference Center in Hales Corners, WI, to discuss immigration. In particular, how they could help to create a response to immigration issues in light of Catholic social teaching.

It was a response to Sr. Norma Pimentel, MJ, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, who called on Catholics to “do something” about the nation’s broken immigration system. She was the featured speaker at the Dehon Lecture at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology in April. Sr. Norma said that as U.S. citizens, all are “complicit” in the actions of the government, and when citizens disagree with the government’s actions they must speak out. Individuals may have little or no influence on political leaders, but, she added, “in large numbers, voices can be heard.”

Fr. José Gonzalez, associate director of Human and Spiritual Formation at SHSST.

Mark Peters, US Province director of Justice, Peace and Reconciliation, said that the July 11 gathering was one of the first steps in building those “large numbers,” helping the voice of Catholic social teaching be heard.

The primary goals of the coalition are to: 1) educate Catholics on issues surrounding migration in light of Catholic social teaching, and 2) organize Catholics to engage lawmakers in a non-partisan way and help them develop bipartisan solutions to immigration reform.

Already, a small group of Milwaukee-area Catholics has had meetings with senior staff from the offices of Senators Tammy Baldwin (D) and Ron Johnson (R). With the help of a larger coalition, it is hoped that those efforts can extend to other legislators.

After brief presentations, including one from Barbara Graham (director of Legal Services for Immigrants for Catholic Charities of Milwaukee), who reminded people that “the best way to lose an argument is to not know your subject matter,” participants broke into small groups to address topics such as parish education, community outreach, congressional advocacy, border visits, and response network development.

Small group dicussions

By the end of the morning, organizers had the names and contact information for dozens of people interested in taking the next steps on each topic.

“Anyone can do something,” said Mark.

Before the closing prayer, participants were invited to submit ideas for a name for the group and to suggest possibilities for a leadership team.

The July 11 gathering was organized by Mark Peters in collaboration with the province JPR Commission and others who have been active in seeking a more humane response to immigration. It was hosted by the Priests of the Sacred Heart (Dehonians).

If you would like to learn how you can get involved, click here to contact Mark Peters or call him at 414-427-4273.

Click here to view a few photos from the gathering.