Profiles in Catholicism

Life on the Boarder
A Commentary by
Fr. Joseph Chamblain, O.S.M.
Pastor, Assumption Catholic Church


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Since the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was formed in 1966, the Conference has issued hundreds of statements, documents, and pastoral letters on everything from abortion to religious liberty to the liturgy to racism to immigration reform. Most of these documents are little read. Very few people surfing the net gravitate toward the USCCB website, and some of the documents, while important, can come across as abstract, repetitive, and sounding as if it were written by a committee (which they often were). In the midst of this vast desert of words, I came across a recent statement not from a conference of bishops but from one bishop, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, titled Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away.  He writes as a pastor of a border diocese under stress, and offers what I believe is an important personal perspective on the issues surrounding immigration and what he calls “our broken immigration system”.

Bishop Seitz begins his letter by pointing out that the area defined by the Diocese of El Paso has been a place of constant migration of peoples for hundreds of years and that it is not “a place of chaos, violence, and mayhem” as one might imagine from some sources. He goes on to say that while not all agree about what should be done about our immigration system, “We can all agree that the present system is not functioning adequately. . . . Our border community bears disproportionately the burdens of a broken system. I am shepherd of a diocese with multiple immigrant detention centers that hold untold numbers of human beings every night, where anguish multiplies and hope is dimmed. I am pastor of a diocese divided by walls and checkpoints that separate individuals from loved ones. I am bishop of a flock frightened by the flashing lights of police cars in the rearview mirror, who wonder if this family outing or that drive home from work will be the last. I am spiritual father to thousands of border patrol and ICE agents, who put their lives on the line to stem the flow of weapons and drugs and those who carry them.  Many agents are troubled in conscience by divisive political rhetoric and new edicts coming from Washington, DC. I am a citizen of a community where children worry whether mon or dad will be there when they return from school. In this situation, daily I ask the Lord to give me the right words to console, to denounce injustice, and to announce redemption.”

Later in his pastoral letter, Bishop Seitz says that “though our Church has been clear about the imperative to solve this perennial problem, our elected leaders have not yet mustered the moral courage to enact permanent comprehensive immigration reform. Still migrants are treated, as Pope Francis says, as ‘pawns on the chessboard of humanity’. Their labor and talents are exploited but they are denied the protection of the law and are scapegoated for our social and economic ills
 . . .  Every human being bears within him or her the image of God which confers upon us a dignity higher than any passport or immigration status. On account of this dignity, the Church has long recognized the first right of persons not to migrate, but to stay in their community of origin. But when that has become impossible, the church also recognizes the right to migrate. While countries have a duty to ensure that immigration is orderly and safe . . . law should be at the service of human beings and ensure the sanctity of all life. Laws that do not respect human dignity and ensure due process must be changed. While respect for the rule of law is essential, we recognize that ‘our true citizenship is in heaven’ (Phil 3:20) and so we judge every law, including our immigration law, according to a higher criterion.”

Bishop Seitz places the situation of immigrants within a larger context of our rapidly secularizing culture. “More and more people go about their daily lives today as if God did not exist. The growing indifference toward God seems to exist side by side with a growing coldness toward the poor and the suffering.” He points out the many migrants offer something we all need. “Migrants are prophetic in their lived testimony to values increasingly sidelined in today’s culture: faith, life, and family. And they wake us from our indifference, opening our eyes to the injustices of globalization and (what Pope Benedict called) ‘an economy of exclusion and inequality’”

If you would like to read the entire twelve-page document, which includes some of the Bishop’s personal stories, go to By the way, our Servite friars have been ministering in the El Paso Diocese since 1954.