printer friendly versionPrint
Cardinal Tobin: Christians must recognize humanity of immigrants, refugees

06 Feb 2018 – By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) — At the forefront of the immigration battle in the U.S., few Catholic Church leaders have been as physically present in supporting the most vulnerable in that group as Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey.

Last year, he intertwined his hands with those of a 59-year-old Mexican grandfather facing deportation after 25 years in the country. He prayed with him en route to a deportation hearing, where he was later granted a stay.

In 2015, he was involved in a very public difference of opinion with then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who had asked the prelate, then archbishop of Indianapolis, not to help resettle a Syrian refugee family in the state. Pence withdrew state funding that would have helped the family, but the archbishop still found a way and Catholic Charities moved in to facilitate the resettlement of the mother and father and their two children seeking refuge.

Cardinal Tobin recounted those moments and explained why helping immigrants and refugees is at the heart of the Christian ethic during a Feb. 5 visit to Georgetown University, where he spoke to a class and participated in the “Dahlgren Dialogue” series of talks with two students, one who came to the U.S. as a refugee and the other brought to the U.S. as a child without legal documentation.

“For Christians, our religious outlook embraces a story that is essentially a migration story, that the first migrant is God,” said Cardinal Tobin during a media briefing before the event, adding that Jesus left God’s glory and essentially migrated to become part of humanity. On earth, he suffered persecution leading him to migrate to Egypt, seeking safety just as millions of people around the world do today, the cardinal said.

We forget where we came from, not just as the early Christian church, but also as a country, when early Catholic immigrants in the 19th century were treated and portrayed in the U.S. “as apes and drunkards and ignorant and threats to God-fearing women and children,” Cardinal Tobin said.

What drove him to attend the immigration hearing for the 59-year-old grandfather last year was similar “rhetoric about the bad hombres and rapists and the drug traffickers.” Those words were “taking away people’s faces and replacing them with a caricature,” much as others had done, denigrating Catholic immigrants to the U.S. in the past, the cardinal said.

He went “just to be with him, to pray with him (and others) ... to pray for a softening of hearts,” as the immigrant, Catalino Guerrero, faced what must have felt like a steamroller, and the cardinal along with other religious leaders wanted to offer him kindness.

“One thing I’ve learned is the terrible fear people live under, not only fear of the names that they’re called, ‘rapists, terrorists,’ but fear, the very practical fear of being removed from their families,” Cardinal Tobin said.

He worries about the aggressive enforcement by authorities and that a possible immigration deal in the works — in exchange for protecting young adults brought by their parents to this country as children without legal documentation — may harm other groups of immigrants.

1 | 2 | 3 |