National Migration Conference 2003
July 6, 2003
Well, let’s see we’ve had a national perspective, the perspective from the Vatican, and now from San Diego. It is an honor to be here among my colleagues from Catholic Charities and certainly with our distinguished guests; Bishop DiMarzio, Fr. Hehir, Fr. Blume, and the other bishops present.
My task is talk about how Catholic Social Teaching as it relates to migration comes alive at the local level. . How is it seen in Catholic Charities? I think that Catholic Social Teaching is central to the work of Catholic Charities because it is the foundation, it’s the skeleton, it’s the heart, it’s the soul, and it’s the muscle of Catholic Charities. The key elements of Catholic Social Teaching -- the protection of life and dignity of the individual, the promotion of the common good, the protection of the family, the right to life, shelter, social services, productive work, just wages -- are the stuff of which we build our programs. They are the things that you do every day. How do we make it come alive, how do we make it become operational, how does it become the standard practice? I think there are three ways that we do it at the local level.
The first is that we have a mission that articulates those values, the next, a staff that understands those values, and third, a staff that embraces those values. Without those three things we become an agency that responds to need rather than our work being a response to a call.
The most important and the most critical thing that we have at Catholic Charities beyond our identity is you - the people that carry the message every day. The basics of our work, this stuff that you are going to be learning over this week; the detention of immigrants and refugees, maximizing voluntary resources, worldwide refugee processing, reception and placement, employment opportunities and how to make them better, immigration status to permanency, making the needs of adults and children that are victims of trafficking known, better case management, immigrant community empowerment, serving asylees - these are the basics In order to accomplish there are trained professionals - effective practitioners. But the heart of what we do requires a commitment to our mission as a Catholic agency. The commitment and the identity that’s clear and that’s valued by all of the staff, that’s valued by each one of you in this room. Because once each of us understands why we open the doors, why we develop our programs, then you begin to embrace the work and allow each individual to express their own values and their own faith tradition.
Not every person who comes to the doors of Catholic Charities is Catholic, not every person who works at Catholic Charities is Catholic. What’s really important is that the individual appreciates who we are and that in appreciating who we are, what our values are, what our social teachings are. This allows that individual and allows each one of us to express our concern for the immigrant and the refugee.
Once that becomes operational in each one of us, then the protection of the life and dignity of individuals, the solidarity, respect and appreciation of others, and the basic rights to adequate shelter and food come alive. Our case managers, and I’m sure in every Catholic Charities, look forward to going to the airport because it is an opportunity to welcome another individual into the community. It’s an opportunity to share what they’ve gained through their own experience with someone who is coming and seeking a better life. It’s stretching out a hand. They stretch it out on their own behalf but also on behalf of the agency. When case managers are looking for shelter for refugees, they begin by looking for neighborhoods that are good neighborhoods; the kind of housing that we would be proud to have people live in. There is a connection because it is a value of the individual.
It’s the value of the agency that is lived out through the individual, through each one of you. Each one of you have a commitment to your particular agency but you also have a commitment to the individual, to the refugee that’s coming, to the immigrant that you are assisting in processing papers through immigration. If we didn’t have the commitment, if we didn’t have that value, we would be diminished. We’d be diminished as an organization and as a movement because we have lost the purpose behind providing the service. Instead, we are distinguished. We’re distinguished by the quality of our service both locally and nationally. We strive for program quality and client empowerment. We strive to find places to live, jobs for our refugees, for our immigrants, jobs that will give them an opportunity for integration into the community, an introduction into the community, and a valuing of that community to the individual.
I think that this happens best, not only when we understand the mission of our agency and are able to incorporate that mission into our own values as staff and we operate from those values, but it also happens when refugee and immigrant services are an integral part of that agency, when each individual and each program is called to interact and to look for solutions that benefit our whole community. When refugee and immigrant services are at the heart of the agency, when they an integral part of all programs offered to meet human needs, then we begin to break down barriers. We begin to make connections with other programs.
Part of our responsibility at Catholic Charities is to look for the common good. To look at how we serve not just the refugee or immigrant, but the homeless, pregnant women, runaway youth. All of those fit within the fabric of who we are as an agency; all of those are addressed by the work that we do.
Keeping Catholic Social Teaching present can be a difficult task. It is a task that requires daily commitment and daily reenergizing because it is connected to our mission. It is connected to what we come to work for, witnessing to mercy and justice, making people’s lives better and advocating for a just society. Our case workers at Catholic Charities in San Diego and our workers in our immigration department are people who have a common experience of being a refugee, of being an immigrant. We want to capitalize on those experiences. We want to expand their appreciation, their understanding of the needs, and have them come alive through the work that they do.
The hard work that each of you does each day on behalf of Catholic Charities, on behalf of our collective mission, was captured in a statement I believe was made by Fr. Blume in his closing remarks when he said, “stake everything on charity, getting close to those who suffer. Insure that the poor have a feeling of home.” That’s our job, that’s Catholic Social Teaching through Catholic Charities, through refugee and immigrant services coming alive.