PHILADELPHIA — Everywhere you turn today, the topics of immigration, the migration crisis in Europe and who is running for U.S. president seem to dominate the national news.
Some will turn their attention to the latest information, while others are simply unable to process one more opinion on the topics at hand.
The Catholic perspective on immigration was offered at a recent evening panel discussion titled "At Home Together: The Church and the Immigrant Family."
It was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in collaboration with the World Meeting of Families, the Center for Migration Studies, Villanova University, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
About 200 people attended the Sept. 1 event at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center and others joined in virtually via Livestream.com.
The room was filled with priests, religious sisters, members of various media outlets and laity representing many different nationalities such as African, Ecuadorean, Pakistani and Filipino.
Redemptorist Father Bruce Lewandowski, vicar for the archdiocesan Office for Cultural Ministries, facilitated and organized the evening. He set the tone by sharing the words of Pope Francis on immigration.
The priest said that "migrants, immigrants, refugees call us, they move us and challenge us. Tonight we're gathered here to look at, reflect on (and) pray about" immigration, and to "listen to each other, dialogue about immigration and families with those words in particular in mind."
The presentations that followed were given by those who work in pastoral care of immigrants; migrants and refugees, who gave personal testimonies; and those who serve in the public sector. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput delivered the keynote address.
The archbishop offered various "seeds for discussion" and referenced the Holy Family to bring the issue into focus.
Quoting Pope Francis, he said: "With the Holy Family as her 'model and protector of every migrant, alien and refugee,' the church is committed to helping migrants with the resources needed for their well-being. The duty and the privilege of that commitment apply to all of us equally."
Attendees were given the opportunity to comment at the end of each presentation or ask questions.
Sister Connie Trainor, a Sister of St. Joseph who is director of her religious community's Welcome Center, said Catholics need to "break down the walls of isolation" offering a sense of solidarity so that immigrants know "they're not alone in their hardships, (that) they're finding their intrinsic worth."
This was demonstrated in a moving moment when Rosa Murcia-Garcia, originally from Guatemala, spoke about her journey to the United States. As she spoke and shared her hardships, many were visibly touched. One woman shed silent tears as she listened.
Today, Murcia-Garcia is a naturalized U.S. citizen and currently works as the administrative assistant at the sisters' Welcome Center. She said she wants to help others struggling to settle in their new home. "I can help because I know how it feels," she said.
Kathia Arango, director of the archdiocesan Office for Hispanic Catholics, called the evening "an enriching experience because of the way the topic was presented with the testimonies of Hispanics who shared how they were helped, with the different congregations and organizations that are led by American citizens," she said.
"This demonstrates that working together, we can make a difference. This is the church that we need to see. It's not the immigrant fighting for the immigrant; rather the face of the American people saying we need to stand up for those who need help, for those who are just newly arriving to this country," Arango said.
Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director of the Philadelphia Mayor's Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs, talked about all the programs the city of Philadelphia offers to ensure the "equal protection of immigrants and that they're not abused," she said, adding, "immigrants are human, they are people."
For Matt Davis, director of the archdiocesan Office for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, the discussion represented "the kind of church that I want to be," he said. "It represents what I deeply believe in and what I want for the world."
Also in attendance was Msgr. Francis Depman, who is pastor of St. Rocco Parish in Avondale. It is the first national parish designated by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to serve the needs of Spanish-speaking Catholics and celebrate their Hispanic heritage for Hispanics. The fast-growing parish has 1,500 children in its religious education program.
"It's good to see all these different groups working together," he told CatholicPhilly.com, the archdiocese's news website. "If people can see that they're not alone, there's more hope."
Sister Linda Lukiewski, a Sister of St. Joseph, who is pastoral minister at Philadelphia's Holy Innocents Parish and the St. Joan of Arc Community, spoke about pastoral challenges, the needs of the community, the "spiritual vacuity" among young people and the characteristics needed to serve the newly arrived.
Those traits include "courage, compassion, openness, humility, a sense of humor, trust and most important of all, love," she said. "People know you want to be with them; they prefer authentic love over perfect grammar."