ST. PAUL, Minn. – Four years ago, Carmen Dean couldn’t have imagined the crowd that would fill her church, Risen Savior in Burnsville, to celebrate the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas.
Latinos of all ages dressed in festive garb joined in an elaborate procession culminating with several men carrying a statue of the brown-skinned Mary toward the altar.
On that same day, Minnesota’s bishops issued a statement asking Catholics to renew their commitment to welcoming immigrants. They also declared Jan. 4 Immigration Sunday in all parishes in the state.
When Ms. Dean became Hispanic ministry director at Risen Savior in 2004, just 60 Hispanic families were registered there. Now 500 Hispanic families belong to the parish, whose mission Dean sums up as: “All are welcome.”
“The Hispanic population has grown so much because there is a lot of need for spiritual attention in the Hispanic community,” Dean said in Spanish.
“The church is the place where immigrants go to ask for economic help, moral help, someone to give them a hand, and, above all, to help them grow in their Catholic faith formation,” she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
The Minnesota bishops’ two-page statement, titled “Welcoming Our Immigrant Sisters and Brothers,” was signed by the leaders of Minnesota’s six dioceses. On Dec. 16 Catholic leaders held a telephonic press conference to discuss the statement and call for “compassionate dialogue on comprehensive immigration reform.”
In the statement the bishops said they are “alarmed by the anti-immigrant sentiment that is dividing our communities” and called on Catholics to join them in promoting “compassionate and just immigration reform.”
“In our pursuit of justice,” the bishops wrote, “we must work together to transform hearts, minds and communities.”
The statement was released on the second anniversary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids at the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Worthington and Swift plants in five other U.S. cities. As a result of the raids, the bishops said, “many of our sisters and brothers were separated from their loved ones.”
“The harsh enforcement of federal immigration laws pushes many of our immigrant sisters and brothers into the shadows and makes them more vulnerable to workplace intimidation and abuses,” the bishops wrote. “While we recognize our nation’s right to maintain secure borders, we oppose policies that separate families and fuel suspicion, fear, intimidation, hatred and violence.”
The bishops called on Minnesota Catholics to join them in their “pursuit of justice.”
“We are called to recognize Christ in every newcomer and to respect the dignity of all human beings, regardless of their legal status,” they said.
“When people make the difficult decision to leave their homelands in search of a better life for themselves and their families, we are called to assist them.”
In addition to the statement, parishes were sent a liturgy planning guide for Immigration Sunday, which includes a review of Catholic teaching on immigration, a prayer for immigrants and immigration-related activities for children, teens and adults.
“Immigration is something that Catholics should be concerned about because it involves the dignity and value of our fellow human beings,” said Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “We are all brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, and we need to be attentive to the needs of our neighbor.
“I hope that our parishes could help form attitudes of openness to strangers in our midst,” the archbishop added. “I encourage them to find ways to bring this to the attention of our elected representatives on the state and federal level.”
Bishop John F. Kinney of St. Cloud said the idea for Immigration Sunday was born out of discussions the bishops had in the wake of an increasing number of immigration enforcement raids in Minnesota and across the nation.
“There’s a great concern that we have about separation of family members and also kind of an anti-immigration feeling among some people throughout the state,” Bishop Kinney said.
“We felt it was an important moment for us to say something to the people of our state about how important it is to remember that we are all members of the same human family, and whatever our nationalities or our languages or our cultures, as different as they might be, we are all brothers and sisters in God,” he said.