The message came in a pastoral letter released yesterday, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe:
“We recognize that every human being, authorized or not, is an image of God and therefore possesses infinite value and dignity,” begins the strongly worded letter released on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12. “We open our arms and hearts to you, and we receive you as members of our Catholic family. As pastors, we direct these words to you from the depths of our heart.”
“We urge you not to despair,” said the letter signed by 33 bishops. “Keep faith in Jesus the migrant who continues to walk beside you. Have faith in Our Lady of Guadalupe, who constantly repeats to us the words she spoke to St. Juan Diego, ‘Am I, who am your mother, not here?’”
The letter thanks immigrants for “the Christian values you manifest to us with your lives — your sacrifice for the well-being of your families, your determination and perseverance, your joy of life, your profound faith and fidelity despite your insecurity and many difficulties.”
Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Calif., told Catholic News Service the bishops wanted “to reach out to the immigrant community and express our concern for them, to speak to them in a spirit of solidarity.”
Though there’s been interest in such a form of outreach for a while, Bishop Soto said there was a sense that it might especially be needed now, because from a political standpoint, it “does not look promising” for government action to improve the legal situation of millions of undocumented immigrants.
“Christian solidarity is not based on political optimism, but it is based on religious hope,” he said. The release date of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe was chosen because she “is such a powerful symbol of solidarity and hope, particularly in difficult times.”
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe comes from the likeness of Mary that appeared on a cloak worn by a poor Indian to whom she appeared on a hillside in Mexico in 1531. Her coloring and features resemble those of an indigenous woman, which at the time and since then has been seen as a message of hope and solidarity to the poor.
Bishop Soto said letter was the result of a collaborative writing process among the Hispanic bishops. And they hope it will be used broadly around the country by all U.S. bishops.
In the letter, they expressed regret that some people have reacted to the economic crisis by showing disdain for immigrants. Some “even blame them for the crisis,” they said. “We will not find a solution to our problems by sowing hatred. We will find the solution by sowing a sense of solidarity among all workers and co-workers — immigrants and citizens — who live together in the United States.”
“Your suffering faces” show the “true face of Jesus Christ,” the bishops said, noting they are well aware of the great sacrifices they make for their families.
“Many of you perform the most difficult jobs and receive miserable salaries and no health insurance or social security,” they continued. “Despite your contributions to the well-being of our country, instead of receiving our thanks, you are often treated as criminals because you have violated current immigration laws.”