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Dispelling fear in a season of hope Print
Guest column
Thursday, Dec. 08, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
Fr. Bart Timmerman

One of the hallmarks of the Catholic Church in the United States is ministry to immigrants.

Some of the first saints of our American Church served Catholic immigrants to the United States. Most notably is St. Frances Cabrini, who was the first American citizen who was canonized. She founded hospitals, schools, and institutions for the poor that served immigrants in large cities like New York and Chicago. She is the Patron Saint of Immigrants because of her devotion and care for them.

Welcoming immigrants

So it has always been the Catholic Church through the centuries that has welcomed immigrants to the United States. Still in our day, we as Catholics, have a duty to continue ministering to our brothers and sisters who come to the United States in search of a better life for themselves and their families.

The United States bishops have had a strong voice in support of immigrants. In our day, we are experiencing a large immigration of Hispanic people coming to the U.S.

In 2003, the bishops published a letter concerning migration entitled, Strangers No Longer: Together On The Journey of Hope. In this pastoral letter, the bishops asked pastors and lay leaders in the Church to ensure support for immigrant families and offer them hospitality not hostility in our communities.

They encouraged parishes to help newcomers integrate in ways that are respectful and are responsive to their social needs. The bishops acknowledged that this is challenging, but also at the same time enriching. Certainly Hispanic families offer an important contributory value to our society: economically, culturally, and religiously.

In my experience in ministering to the Hispanic community in Madison, I have seen the devout faith and the strong work ethic that these families have that contribute so positively to our community. I have also seen the challenges these families face which include poverty, language and educational barriers, and other social needs.

Recently with the political rhetoric in our past elections, there has been a fear that has come upon the Hispanic community as they wonder about deportations, facing violence in Mexico if forced to return, separation of families, and growing racial hostility in the U.S.A.

Day of Prayer

Our bishops are calling for a Day of Prayer with a focus on the plight of refugees and migrants that will take place across the United States on December 12, 2016, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It will be a time to place before a merciful God the hopes, fears, and needs of all those families who have come to the U.S. seeking a better life.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) stated, "As Christmas approaches and especially on this feast of Our Lady, we are reminded of how our savior Jesus Christ was not born in the comfort of his own home, but rather in an unfamiliar manger," he said.

"To all those families separated and far from home in uncertain times, we join with you in a prayer for comfort and joy this Advent season," he added.

Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice-president of the USCCB, explained, "So many families are wondering how changes to immigration policy might impact them. We want them to know the Church is with them, offers prayers on their behalf, and is actively monitoring developments at the diocesan, state, and national levels to be an effective advocate on their behalf."

Response in diocese

At many parishes in our diocese, including our parish of St. Thomas Aquinas, we will be celebrating Mass on the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe at 6:30 p.m. to respond to this call for prayer and support.

Deacon Jack Fernan is leading a spiritual journey to pray and fast with the intention of dispelling fear in the immigrant community. This is a spiritual journey that involves devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and through her intercession to unify our human family.

For more information, call Deacon Fernan at 608-838-4006 between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. or Juan Estrada at 608-577-4402 to communicate in Spanish.

Fr. Bart Timmerman is pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Madison.