This week I have participated in the spring meeting of the U.S. Bishop’s Conference, which was held in the Diocese of Santa Fe. The spring meeting is hosted in a different city each year. The bishops meet again each fall in either Baltimore or Washington.
The gathering had a retreat format. We met at a hotel in Albuquerque which was owned by an Indian tribe. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the archbishop of Quebec, was the preacher for the retreat. He is a wonderful theologian who gave fantastic talks. He was also there to promote the Eucharistic Congress that will be held next year in Quebec City...
In addition to the larger gathering they always add a number of committee meetings, which allows us to save on travel since we are already together. I am on three committees--the Latin American Secretariat, the Committee on Immigration and the Missions Committee.
Committee on Latin America
Though I was unable to attend the missions meeting [because] of a scheduling conflict, I attended the other two meetings and was pleased to discover at the one on Latin America that the Catholics of Boston were the largest contributors nationwide to this year’s Diocesan National Collection for the Church in Latin America -- $403,354. (The total amount collected nationwide was $7,147,635.) At the session, committee members discussed the different proposals for grants that we receive from bishops and missionaries throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America.
The Immigration Committee meeting was spent talking about the new immigration legislation. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez came to New Mexico to talk to us and urged us to support President Bush’s effort to pass a comprehensive immigration bill. We also spoke, via conference call, with Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey. He has been very involved in immigration matters.
The bishop’s conference is very anxious to ensure that the principle of family reunification is not jettisoned from the new legislation in favor of people with more academic qualifications. We see that one of the strengths of our nation’s immigration laws has been the family. That has been a constant in our policy, and we would like to see that maintained.
Our second concern is that some of the regulations concerning the path toward citizenship have become too unreasonable and burdensome. Sometimes people are required to go back to their own countries and come in again, which makes it difficult for them to pay their bills and maintain their jobs. Some of the regulations that have been introduced, we feel, are too punitive. The purpose of the legislation must be to try to deal with all those who are already here and also to ensure that the United States is in control of who is entering the country. If we do not come up with a way that makes it possible for people to regularize their situation, then it will defeat the purpose of the legislation...
This legislation has been a roller coaster ride, and there were times when I thought it would be passed only to see it derailed. The problem is that if it is not dealt with now, most observers think it will be many years before we will be able to deal with the issue again. With the presidential elections coming up, it would likely be several years, and we really cannot afford to wait that long -- too many people’s lives are at stake...
On another evening, all the bishops were invited to a screening of the movie “Bella” and to listen to a talk by the film’s director, Alejandro Monteverde.
He made the movie out of his desire to be at the service of the Church and to teach a pro-life message using modern means. He told us of people who, after seeing this film, decided not to have abortions and he said that one family even named their baby “Bella.” He said that this was, in fact, the whole purpose of this film: to try to teach the Gospel of Life using a story, a very simple story of a woman who finds herself in a difficult pregnancy. She has lost her job and this Hispanic family befriends her... but I won’t tell you how it ends! I recommend the film to all of you because I think that the message is so beautiful.
Also in this week’s blog:
> Fundraising at Cardinal Cushing schools
> Launching an effort to strengthen marriage
> Visiting Mission Church