Welcoming the Stranger initiative of the SVDP

by | May 4, 2016 | Formation, News, Systemic change, Vincentian Family


Newly Approved SVdP Immigration Position Paper Stresses “Welcoming the Stranger”

The new position paper should be of interest to all branches of the Vincentian Family at a number of levels. It represents a comprehensive approach to a very complicated series of issues involved under the umbrella of “immigration.” It also coincides with the coming Vincentian Family “Welcome the Stranger” Year of 2017 initiative marking 400 years of Vincentian charism.

Tom Dwyer, Chair, National Voice of the Poor Committee, writes…

In our daily charitable work providing assistance to those in need, many Vincentians encounter undocumented immigrants. This is especially true of those Conferences in the states along the United States border with Mexico, but immigrants are found throughout the country. Most live in fear of being discovered and deported, separating them cruelly and unjustly from their family and loved ones and destroying the productive lives they are building. Many survive in poverty or near-poverty.

An updated Immigration Position Paper based on five “guiding principles” taken from our faith tradition and consistent with our highest ideals as a country has just been approved unanimously by the National Council at its meeting this past Saturday. It had been previously approved by the National Board of Directors.

Vincentians are asked to prayerfully reflect on the Paper’s message, discuss it among themselves, and act accordingly in living out their Vincentian mission by always “welcoming the stranger” among us.

In her cover message accompanying the Position Paper, SVdP National President Sheila Gilbert calls for urgently needed reform of our nation’s immigration system. She notes that the lack of reform “causes millions of undocumented immigrants already in the United States to suffer senseless, grinding poverty. This situation is an affront to the American people’s sense of compassion and justice.”

The Paper identifies five key “Guiding Principles” for reform legislation:

  • Provide a compassionate and dignified path to citizenship for undocumented persons in the country;
  • Preserve family unity as a fundamental cornerstone of our national immigration system;
  • Provide a legal path for low-skilled immigrants to come and work in the United States;
  • Restore due process protections to our immigration enforcement policies; and
  • Address the root causes of migration, such as persecution and economic disparity.

The Paper, replacing one last issued in 2004, frequently references the teachings of Pope Francis and the U.S. Catholic Bishops on immigration and includes Biblical passages about our obligations as Catholics to welcome the stranger. In the Frequently Asked Questions section, matters ranging from the teachings of other faith traditions about immigration to a review of common misunderstandings and misinformation are addressed. Many links are provided to important source documents about immigration.

The Paper, along with a set of Frequently Asked Questions, is now available at the Voice of the Poor Web Portal of the Society’s Website.

The issue of how we treat immigrants and refugees is not limited to the United States, however, as the current immigrant crisis in Europe demonstrates and spills over to the United States, even in relatively small measure. Characterizing our collective failure to respond more compassionately to these migration crises as the “globalization of indifference,” Pope Francis, speaking on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, said, “We have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the Priest and Levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan.”

The updated SVdP Position Paper rejects such indifference. “Our position,” said President Sheila Gilbert, “bases itself on love of neighbor, the principles of our Catholic faith, and the rich tradition and noble history of our country as a land of opportunity and refuge for migrants.”

Issuance of the Position Paper coincides with the coming Vincentian Family “Welcome the Stranger” Year of 2017 marking 400 years of Vincentian charism. In 1617, while preaching in the parish church of Chatillon, St. Vincent de Paul exhorted his congregation to take responsibility for a poor family from the parish that had taken seriously ill and were in need of food and comfort.

Fr. Gregory Gay, the Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, will launch the 2017 Year of “Welcome the Stranger” on May 15, 2016, the Feast of Pentecost. More information on the “Welcome the Stranger” Year can be found at the Vincentian Family Website and the Congregation of the Mission Website.

Currently, about 11 million undocumented immigrants are estimated to be residing in the United States. The last time new immigration legislation was enacted was 30 years ago. During that time, the political and economic situation in Central and South American countries and in the United States has changed dramatically. At least three times since 2000, Congress has tried and failed to enact reform legislation to reflect new realities.

Most recently in November 2015, the president issued an Executive Order which would have given several million immigrants at least temporary protection from deportation under certain conditions and also would have opened the possibility for more permanent relief. But that Order was challenged in court by a number of states. Last week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Order.

Virtually everyone, irrespective of political persuasion, agrees that our immigration system is broken. But the parameters and the details of the specific reforms to be enacted have eluded consensus in Congress. The SVdP Position Paper offers a foundation for building that consensus and bringing about social justice for our immigrant friends in need.