By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — Let’s face it. Lately, there has been a lot more discussion across the country regarding immigration — rights, wrongs, economics and cultures. Immigration has its proponents and its opponents and, more often than not, acrimony rules the conversation.
But not at the 2014 Immigration Conference, held May 3 at Cristo Rey Kansas City High School. The conference was more about commonalities than differences, welcoming the stranger and advocating acceptance and cultural exchanges.
Who better to open a positive conversation about immigration than the Catholic Church, an immigrant church historically welcoming to newcomers, and providing assistance and pastoral care to those in need, including immigrants, migrants, refugees and people moving from one community to another. Catholic Social Teaching principles presented in Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of Labor), which insisted on dignity for the working poor and a Christian moral lifestyle, were later developed by succeeding popes and bishops into basic immigration principles. These include:
• The right of people to find opportunities in their homeland and the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.
• Nations have the right to regulate their borders and to control immigration, but refugees and asylum seekers should always be afforded protection.
• The human dignity and rights of undocumented immigrants should be respected.
Those principles are not just words.
Elena Segura, Director of the Office for Immigration Education and Immigration Affairs for the Archdiocese of Chicago, gave the keynote address: “Becoming a Welcoming Church.” The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, like many dioceses throughout the U.S., is seeing more and more parishes becoming multicultural, with parishioners from several, sometimes many, different cultures calling them their church home.
Segura shared her experiences in ministering to immigrants in the archdiocese; emphasizing that Catholics are called to be a welcoming church to all people, regardless of nationality, country of origin, language and culture.
An immigrant from Peru, she understands the physical, emotional, educational, cultural and spiritual needs of immigrants. Segura is the founding director of the archdiocesan Office for Immigration Affairs and Immigration Education, serving 356 parishes, including 120 Hispanic and 50 Polish parishes. Created in 2009, the office grew out of the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform in response to the call from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Break-out sessions included “Invisible Violence, Deportation,” presented by Laurie Anderson, Executive Director, Immigrant Justice Advocacy Movement. It explored the current detention and deportation system and the criminalization of immigrants.
“Immigrant Healthcare,” presented by Clelo Fernandez, Chief Program Officer, El Centro Organization, explored ethnic neighborhoods in the Latino Community and compared socioeconomic situations of different groups. It discussed how differences in legal status, poverty levels, education and language affect the immigrant’s access to health care.
“The Dream Team,” led by Deborah Briggs, Director of Adult Education and Literacy, Independence School District and Mo Orpin, Executive Director of the Don Bosco Center, focused on education, resources and services and how immigrants and refugees can access them.
“Know Your Rights,” presented by Michael Sharma-Crawford, attorney, The Clinic, helped participants understand an immigrant’s rights before, during and after removal proceedings.
“New Immigration and Education Options for Immigrant Youth,” was presented by Jessica Piedra, an attorney and president of the Latino Coalition of Kansas City. Piedra discussed new developments in both immigration and educational opportunities for immigrant youth, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which offers in-state tuition for children brought to this country at a young age, work authorization and deportation protection.
“Catholic Social Teaching 101,” presented by Jude Huntz, Chancellor, Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, explored church teaching on the care and concern for immigrants.
“Pastoral Hispana: the State of Hispanic Ministry in our Diocese,” presented by Miguel Salazar, diocesan Director of Hispanic Ministries, discussed the challenges, opportunities and myths of Hispanic ministry relative to the more than 85,000 Hispanics living in the diocese. Salazar later said about 55,000 identify with being Catholic, but only about one fifth are registered in a parish.
He said that eight parishes in the diocese have viable Hispanic ministries: St. Patrick, St. Joseph; St. Sabina, Belton; Our Lady of the Presentation, Lee’s Summit; St. Mark’s, Independence; Holy Cross, Our Lady of Peace, St. Anthony and Our Lady of Guadalupe parishes, all in Kansas City. “They are gente-puente, bridge builders,” Salazar said.
“This diocese has a large Hispanic constituency,” he said, “that needs support and integration into society. Integration provides a welcoming exchange and acceptance of cultures.” One thing must be recognized, he continued. For the Hispanic immigrant, English is the language of school, the street, government and the law. Spanish is the language of the family (home) and the faith. Salazar added that one young man he knows said that he attends Mass in Spanish because “I feel it in my language!”
A multicultural panel discussion followed. Pastoral leaders — Jesuit Father Rafael Garcia, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish, Deacon Danny Esteban of Holy Cross parish, Hilda Beck, missions director, St. Mark’s Parish, Independence, and Paul and Anna Nguyen, Marriage Preparation Instructors, Holy Martyrs Parish — served as panelists.
Hispanic youth and evangelization were two issues addressed by the panel; ideas for building multicultural competency in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese were also shared.
Integration, enculturation, acceptance and welcome all are part of the overarching goal combining Hispanic and Immigration ministries. But, “until we recognize and acknowledge the cultural and historical differences of peoples, it’s too simple to put up roadblocks” to reaching that goal, said Brooklyn Samson, program manager, diocesan office of Human Rights. “We have to get rid of the ‘my’ parish, community, etc., mentality and reach for the sharing, enriching, learning mentality of ‘our.’”