Welcoming the stranger: VIA to educate, communicate and serve

VIA, the Immigration and Refugee Task Force met May 3 to establish objectives and initial plans of action. Pictured are: Dave Howery; Fr. Jeffrey Stephan; Hilda Beck; Father Charles Rowe; Miguel Salazar; Bill Francis; Jarrod Sanderson; Jack Smith and Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. Not pictured: Father Gianantonio Baggio, CS, and Ronald Nguyen. (Key photo/Megan Marley)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Checked out the Diocesan website, kcsjcatholic.org, recently? If you have, you may have noticed a new logo on the Human Rights page: the Latin word VIA (to go or movement) fronting a silhouette of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt. The Holy Family escaped Nazareth and traveled to Egypt to avoid the persecutions of King Herod, and represents a model for the ministry of pastoral care, prayer, education and public policy advocacy for immigrants and refugees.

With immigration and refugee resettlement hot topics in the news — remember the social media frenzy over an I.C.E. raid in March that proved to be false — and this diocese straddling I-35 , the 1,569-mile highway stretching from Laredo, TX, to Duluth, Minn., several months ago Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr., announced the formation of VIA, an Immigration & Refugee Task Force.

The diocesan task force, combining the knowledge and experience of Bishop Johnston; Father Charles Rowe, S.T.D., Vicar General for Pastoral Affairs; Bill Francis, Director of the Human Rights Office; Miguel Salazar, Director of Hispanic Ministry; Jack Smith, Director of Communications; Jarrod Sanderson, Catholic Charities’ Exec. Director of Senior Housing; Dave Howery, Executive Director of InterServ, Interfaith Community Services of St. Joseph; Hilda Beck, Missions Director, St. Mark’s Parish in Independence; Father Jeff Stephan, pastor of St. Sabina Parish in Belton; Scalabrinian Father Gianantonio Baggio, Director of Hispanic Ministry, Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kan., and attorney Ronald Nguyen, St. Patrick Parish, Kansas City, will be meeting bi-monthly for the present. It first met May 3 to establish objectives and identify initial action plans.

Five key areas of responsibility were identified. These are to identify and prioritize the direct needs of vulnerable immigrants, refugees and their families for which the diocese must provide solutions, and similarly with the indirect needs of local community partners and social service organizations that serve these populations; to develop a diocesan blueprint for a program of education, formation, prayer, and public policy advocacy on immigration, migration and refugee concerns; creating a common diocesan communication plan for our priests and pastoral leaders on these concerns; and to provide timely information and consultation to Bishop Johnston on immigration- and refugee-related issues affecting those living within the diocese’s geographic boundaries.

Based on those core objectives, VIA has prioritized four projects, all of which already have plans underway.

These projects are: create a communications process to effectively and consistently address concerns related to raids or other crisis situations and create crisis packets for parishes in the event of situations such as raids, etc. Father Stephan said the concern in March involving potential ICE raids of parishes was initiated and gained momentum via social media. He suggested a dedicated Facebook page or similar means of immediate communication to counter the issue.

A second project is to design a pastoral care and education ministry model for parishes that have either a large Spanish-speaking, a large undocumented or a large immigrant/refugee population, and a model for those that don’t have such a population.

VIA is already working to establish a Kansas City-based Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) organization to assist in legal matters. There is a CLINIC affiliate in St. Joseph and one in Kansas City, Kan. The St. Joseph affiliate, InterServ, is willing to work with VIA to discuss what is involved in establishing a CLINIC affiliate in Kansas City. InterServ executive director Dave Howery cautioned the task force that addressing the disconnect between the current political narrative on what is being enforced and what is occurring is important. “Although it is reported that only undocumented individuals who have broken the law are being singled out for deportation, the reality is many unsuspecting undocumented individuals are being caught in ‘collateral sweeps.’”

The fourth project is to launch a program of public policy advocacy to provide formation for citizens, and both documented and undocumented immigrants on Catholic Social Teaching, comprehensive immigration reform and opportunities for the faithful to directly participate in the work of the Human Rights Office and Missouri Catholic Conference in this area.

Catholic Social Teaching encourages the faithful to welcome the vulnerable stranger, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, and be a voice for those in need.

VIA met again July 19. Miguel Salazar, diocesan Hispanic Ministry director, outlined the progress of the proposed emergency communications and diocesan parish crisis packets plans. “There is a real need for a team dedicated to effectively providing members of the diocese in general and particularly the faithful in specific parishes with clear, concise, comprehensive information they can act on should critical immigration and refugee-related issues arise,” he said.

Bill Francis, director of the Human Rights and Respect Life offices, added that the communications plan, when it is up and running, will serve as a common resource for all 98 parishes and missions to ensure dissemination of the most accurate, timely and beneficial information. He noted that “time is of the essence in a crisis situation.”

There was discussion about representation from law enforcement on the communications team.

Smith reminded the VIA team that “rumors are not like legislation. They need to be dealt with differently.” In other words, find who or what the source is and whether the rumor is true or false. “If a rumor could be true,” he added, “we need to get them rights information, what they need to know.”

Salazar suggested obtaining a list of Catholic lawyers with immigration expertise to use as referrals with other resources to stay plugged into monitoring. He also said getting people information on their rights is a preventative to panic.

Howery said, “Law enforcement may be in the dark on rumors, or likely, not forthcoming on what they do know.” Possibly a “need to know” situation.

Francis suggested “an automatic mechanism that can be used for a number of scenarios, like amber alerts, raise levels of awareness.”
Ron Nguyen added his suggestion: “an alert app for smart phones.” So many people have smart phones these days, Francis added, “maybe we could stop a rumor before it gets out of hand.”

The establishment of a CLINIC site in this diocese was the next topic. Francis again said there is one affiliate in this diocese, InterServ in St. Joseph. There is an affiliate in Kansas City, Kan., and one in Jefferson City.

Dave Howery said he was trying to establish a point person or partnership in Kansas City for educational resources. For direct services, he said, one dedicated employee was needed. Howery is working with Jarrod Sanderson of Catholic Charities on this project.

Next on the agenda was the development of parish ministry models. Salazar said the parish is the heart of the Church, the lynchpin. “We have to go back to the parishes. . .The parish-based pastoral ministry model we like is one developed by the Immigration Ministry within the Office of Human Dignity and Solidarity for the Archdiocese of Chicago, called Pastoral Migratoria.”

He explained that the program has six training sessions in immigration and pastoral ministry. After commissioning, the staff becomes the go-to people in a parish, welcoming new parishioners, providing case management of newcomers from Hispanic countries and more. Salalzar said, “We are looking into forming an intentional ministry for undocumented and documented people in our parishes.”

Bill Francis connected the varying discussions over the past two hours. “The people are our common denominator and that common denominator brings us together.”

VIA will meet again in late September.

For more information about the VIA Immigration & Refugee ministry and updates on its work, visit www.humanrightskcsj.org, or contact the Human Rights Office at francis@diocesekcsj.org or (816) 756-1850 x544.



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September 28, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph