By David Kerr
Pope Benedict XVI says that Catholic immigrants to the United States could play a crucial role in the renewal of the Church and society.
“The immense promise and the vibrant energies of a new generation of Catholics are waiting to be tapped for the renewal of the Church’s life and the rebuilding of the fabric of American society,” said the Pope at a May 18 audience.
Pope Benedict made his remarks to a delegation of U.S. Eastern rite Catholic bishops who are at the Vatican for a May 15-19 “ad limina” visit – the first one specifically created for non-Roman rite bishops.
He told the bishops that the apostolic opportunities provided by immigration require more than “simply respecting linguistic diversity, promoting sound traditions, and providing much-needed social programs and services.”
Instead, there also has to be a commitment to “ongoing preaching, catechesis and pastoral activity aimed at inspiring in all the faithful a deeper sense of their communion in the apostolic faith and their responsibility for the Church’s mission in the United States.”
With many Eastern Catholics hailing from the Middle East and Eastern Europe, the Pope noted how the Church in the United States has historically “struggled to recognize and incorporate this diversity, and has succeeded, not without difficulty, in forging a communion in Christ.”
More recently, the largest waves of immigration into the United States have come from other predominantly Catholic cultures, such as the Dominican Republic and Mexico. A recent study suggested that Latinos now make up 32 percent of the U.S. Catholic population compared with only 10 percent in 1987.
Pope Benedict praised the “unremitting efforts” of Catholic institutions that are responding to the needs of new immigrants and described their endeavors as “in the best traditions of the Church in America.”
“The Catholic community in the United States continues, with great generosity, to welcome waves of new immigrants, to provide them with pastoral care and charitable assistance, and to support ways of regularizing their situation, especially with regard to the unification of families.”
Earlier this month, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York publicly criticized the attitude of some Republican politicians towards immigration. He described laws that separate immigrant families and require identification before giving charitable assistance to the needy as “not Christian” and “not American.” Instead, he urged lawmakers to “come up with a much saner, more civil, more just immigration policy.”
In his May 18 remarks, Pope Benedict expressed his “profound concern” over United State’s immigration policy being reformed and called for the “just treatment and the defense of the human dignity of immigrants.”
“In our day too, the Church in America is called to embrace, incorporate and cultivate the rich patrimony of faith and culture present in America’s many immigrant groups.”
The leaders of the Eastern Catholic churches are the last of 15 groups of U.S. bishops to visit Rome on pilgrimage in recent months.
Pope Benedict concluded his meeting with them by imparting his apostolic blessing and entrusting them, along with their flocks to “the loving intercession of Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States.”