At workshop, hospitality for migrants encouraged

DORCHESTER -- A workshop discussing migration at the Archdiocesan Justice Convocation explored the question of why people leave one country to enter another, and in light of that, provided ways that Catholic social teaching can shape Catholics’ response to how society assimilates migrants and refugees.

Participants at the Oct. 17 workshop at Boston College High School also learned how the Church is responding to migrants and refugees at the local level.

Sister Marie Prefontaine, SND, who teaches a course on migration theology at St. John’s Seminary, discussed the history of Catholic social teaching on migration and offered frameworks for response to today’s situation; and Marjean Perhot, director of Refugee and Immigration Services for Catholic Charities of Boston, spoke about what is being done to aid migrants and refugees in the Boston area.

Sister Marie said that social action needs to “protect and promote” human dignity, citing Pope John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical “Pacem in Terris” as evidence. She said that the encyclical says that rights and duties are correlative. Therefore, people’s rights to emigrate are linked with each person’s duties towards migrants.

“If duties are not understood, then rights are not respected,” she said. “The fact that we are all human together, not that we belong to this country or nation, promotes our duty.”

“The criteria for rights cannot be based solely on protecting one’s own property while failing to take into consideration the needs of persons who are tragically forced to ask for hospitality,” she added.

Therefore, Americans today cannot use unemployment in shaping immigration policy.

“Our own prosperity is not the criteria for welcoming people, according to Catholic social teaching,” she said. “It has to be looked at in terms of who has the need and how can we welcome them.”

Catholic social teaching should “promote a moral idea” given that no central authority exists to address migration issues, she said.

In the interview, she echoed the Church’s call for family reunification, more efficient processing for refugee re-settlement, and a path for legalization for the undocumented as specific issues that she perceives the government needs to address in future immigration policy.

While Sister Marie addressed concerns on a global level, Perhot discussed migration from a local perspective.

Perhot highlighted the services that Catholic Charities provides to newcomers to the United States -- notably immigration legal counsel, interpreters, refugee resettlement, and job placement services.

Immigration has been a focus of the archdiocese recently, according to Pat Dinneen, chairperson of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council’s Social Justice Committee.

“One of the big issues we’re focusing on for the APC is immigration. It’s one of the areas the cardinal himself has identified as a priority.”