Our Lady of Guadalupe

Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the cloak of Juan Diego

Advocate for migrants and defend the powerless

Mary is an advocate for migrants and a defender of the powerless. On Tuesday, December 12, we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This feast celebrates Mary’s appearance in 1531 to Juan Diego, an indigenous Mexican peasant. (An earlier article touched on this feast.) The Virgin of Guadalupe is the patroness of All the Americas. Thus, she looks out for those who journey from one country to another, searching for work and a better life.

Our Lady of Guadalupe defends the powerless

The Guadalupe story

Mary commissioned Juan Diego to petition the bishop of Mexico, a Spaniard, to build a temple. She wished to reveal her Son to the people of Mexico. Juan Diego won over the skeptical bishop.

He gave the bishop flowers hidden in his cloak. When Juan Diego let the flowers fall to the floor, his cloak shown with the beautiful image of the Virgin. The cloak, with the image, still hangs in the basilica built near hill of Tepeyac, where Mary’s appearance occurred.

Guadalupe is a lesson on God’s unifying love

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe reminds us of God’s love for the powerless. Saint Pope John Paul II said:

In America, the mestiza face of the Virgin of Guadalupe was from the start a symbol of the inculturation of the Gospel, of which she has been the lodestar and the guide. Through her powerful intercession, the Gospel will penetrate the hearts of the men and women of America and permeate their cultures, transforming them from within.

Ecclesia in America ¶ 70. Mary invites the powerful to be in solidarity with the powerless. She represents the unity of God’s people – the Spanish clergy and the Mexican peasants. Therefore, we are to work together to seek the common good of all people.

The bishops of Mexico and the United States advocate for migrants

In 2003, the bishops of Mexico and the United States together issued a pastoral letter on migration that they titled Strangers No Longer (SNL). The bishops said:

The appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego revealed the compassionate presence of God reaching out to Mary to be in solidarity with and to give hope to a suffering people. In the same spirit, we, the Catholic bishops of the United States of Mexico and the United States of America, have written this letter to give hope to suffering migrants.

SNL ¶ 107.

The bishops saw that “migration between our two nations is necessary and beneficial.” But many migrants are suffering and dying. “[H]uman rights are abused; families are kept apart; and racist and xenophobic attitudes remain.” SNL ¶ 2. Therefore, the bishops  “offer a moral framework for embracing, not rejecting, the reality of migration between our two nations.” SNL ¶ 7.

Migration in light of Scripture and social teaching

First, the bishops briefly reflect on migration in light of Scripture and Catholic social teaching. For example, they cite Deuteronomy 10: 17-19. It is there that God commands his chosen people to “befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt”. SNL ¶ 25. And, referring to Matthew 2: 15, they remind us that the Holy Family were refugees in Egypt. SNL ¶ 26.

“Catholic social teaching,” the bishops say, “has a long and rich tradition in defending the right to migrate.” SNL ¶ 28. People also have the right not to migrate. SNL ¶ 30. “The right to asylum must never be denied when people’s lives are truly threatened in their homeland. SNL ¶ 31. And even undocumented migrants have rights; their human dignity must be respected. SNL ¶ 32.

Five principles on migration issues

The bishops identify five principles that emerge from Catholic social teaching “which guide the Church’s view on migration issues.” SNL ¶ 33. And they ask us to advocate for migrants based on these principles.

1. Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland

All persons have the right to find in their own countries the economic, political, and social opportunities to live in dignity and achieve a full life through the use of their God-given gifts. In this context, work that provides a just, living wage is a basic human need. SNL ¶ 34.

2. Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.

The Church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people. This is known as the universal destination of goods. When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right. SNL ¶ 35.

3. Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders.

The Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for the purpose of acquiring additional wealth. More powerful economic nations, which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows. SNL ¶ 36.

4. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.

Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority. SNL ¶ 37.

5. The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.

Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected. Often they are subject to punitive laws and harsh treatment from enforcement officers from both receiving and transit countries. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary. SNL ¶ 38.

Public policy issues

Then, drawing on these five principles, the bishops identified a number of public policy issues. Today, many of these issues remain at the forefront of the debate. For example, they urge the two nations to address the root causes of migration.

As we have stated, persons should have the opportunity to remain in their homeland to support and find full lives for themselves and their families. This is the ideal situation for which the world and both countries must strive: one in which migration flows are driven by choice, not necessity. Paramount to achieving this goal is the need to develop the economies of sending nations, including Mexico.

SNL ¶ 59.

Also , they urge the United States to reduce the waiting times for spouses and children of green card holders to obtain visas. SNL ¶ 65. And they support reforms of the employment-based immigration program, including protecting workers from exploitation. SNL ¶¶ 72-77. Most controversially, the bishops support a “broad legalization program” for undocumented workers. SNL ¶¶ 68-71.

Since 2003, new issues have arisen

The bishops issued Strangers No Longer 18 years ago. Since then, new issues have come into focus. For example, much attention has been given to the “dreamers.” These are the children of undocumented migrants, who came to this country at an early age. They have little experience of their nation of birth. In 2012, the United States government established the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA allowed such persons to apply for a deferment of any action to deport them to their country of birth. Also, it  allowed them to work in the United States. But recently, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it is ending the DACA program. The chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has called upon the Trump administration to continue the DACA program, and for Congress to enact a permanent resolution of this issue.

Advocate for migrants

Holy Mary is mother to us all. She wishes her children to love each other. More than that, she wishes us to care for each other. Christians may disagree about particular policy options. But the story of Guadalupe gives us a context in which to discuss our disagreements. Thus it also provides a framework for resolving them.

January 7 through 13 is National Migration Week. This year, the U.S. bishops invite us to recall that all of our families have a migrant past. For some, that migrant past was long ago; for others, it is quite recent. But in our shared heritage, we should be in solidarity with one another. Information, suggestions for action, and prayers may be found here.