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A ‘nation of immigrants’ should identify with migrants’ plight and human dignity, says Boston cardinal

A 'nation of immigrants' should identify with migrants' plight and human dignity, says Boston cardinal

Magazine, The Immigrant Experience, Detroit Catholic

WASHINGTON (OSV News) — A political climate hostile to the needs and existence of immigrants is not only morally wrong, it also weakens the structures of democratic governments, said Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston.

“As a nation of immigrants, we should seek a sense of identification with other immigrants trying to enter the country,” Cardinal O’Malley reminded his audience March 22 in delivering the James H. Provost Lecture at The Catholic University of America in Washington.

For the cardinal, this identification began in 1973 when he founded Centro Católico Hispano (Hispanic Catholic Center) in Washington, an organization providing assistance, including legal help, to immigrants.

“I didn’t celebrate Mass in English until I became a bishop in the Virgin Islands (in 1984),” he observed. But even then, Cardinal O’Malley found himself celebrating Masses late at night on cruise ships for their Filipino crew members.

“Our immigrant population contributes mightily to the economy and the well-being of this country,” he added, and is a major challenge to Catholic social teaching.

Further, “States have an obligation to provide reasonable responses to immigration,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “280 million migrants (worldwide) conveys the scope of the problem.”

Migration by those escaping poverty and violence, such as what has occurred in Venezuela, “is one of the best examples of what are called transnational problems” not controlled by state boundaries, he said.

But it requires a type of cooperation that so far is evasive, the cardinal said, since “no manner of political authority exists as a global government.”

Guidance for the responsibilities of nations exists, he pointed out, in Catholic social teaching, especially about the dignity of the person. “A shared dignity is the basis of the equality of persons,” he said, transcending ethnicity and wealth.

“Human rights flow directly from human dignity,” but, Cardinal O’Malley concluded, “The moral claims of immigrants may provide more demands than the current legal system provides.”

In reference to the U.S. political climate, he said, “These divisions are most intense between Congress and the executive branch. The division is in plain sight to the country as a whole.”

Cardinal O’Malley, a Capuchin friar named archbishop of Boston in 2003 and a cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, has been consistent in his criticism of national immigration policy across Democratic and Republican administrations.

In April 2014, celebrating a special Mass in the Arizona desert, the cardinal distributed holy Communion to the faithful through the slats in the 20-foot-high fence on the U.S.-Mexican border.

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