Crossing Borders: Catholic Social Teaching and Immigration Reform
Newman Eberhardt Lecture
 
Saint John's Seminary, Camarillo
November 28, 2006
 
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony
Archbishop of Los Angeles
 
I am delighted to be here at St. John's Seminary for the 2006 Newman Eberhardt Lecture. I want to thank the Rector of St. John's Seminary, Monsignor Helmut Hefner, and the Academic Dean, Vincentian Father Richard Benson, for the invitation to deliver these remarks this evening. My gratitude goes to the entire faculty for your work to ensure an environment to form and train future leaders of the Church. To all the seminarians: it is always a joy to be here and to walk with you as you prepare for service to the Church. Finally, to all gathered here this evening, I thank you for the support you offer to this institution dedicated to forming Church leaders with purpose and vision.
 
This year, immigration reform has been a central topic of discussion and debate. Once again, our Church has been in the middle of this debate -- for this I am both grateful and pleased. Tonight, I want to use immigration reform as a lens to examine the Church's social teaching and social ministry.
 
The Catholic Church is one of the first global institutions. Long before the term "globalization" became part of our lexicon, the Church through its organizations and institutions established a global mission to bring the Good News of Christ to the world. As a global entity, the Church's membership represents the vast diversity of all God's creation -- rich and poor; urban, rural and suburban; industrialized nations and developing countries; indeed virtually every ethnic and racial group. This global presence puts us in direct contact with the lives, stories and aspirations -- of the entire human family. It is the breadth and depth of this reach that allows us to be attuned to what Gaudium et spes describes as "the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men (and women) of this age."
 
This global presence and diverse constituency demands that the Church constantly adapt and respond to changing environments, including the changing face of Catholics in our pews. Over the past forty years, the profile of the Catholic Church in the United States has been transformed with the growth of immigrant communities, particularly the Hispanic population. Today, nearly 40 percent of Catholics in the United States are Hispanic, and close to three-quarters of Hispanics are Catholic. Hispanics account for nearly 71 percent of the growth in the Church since 1960. Of singular significance is the fact that the Hispanic population is relatively young with 35 percent between the ages of 15 and 25. Approximately 40 percent of Hispanics currently residing in the United States are foreign-born.
 
These demographics require the Church to give shape to new and expanded pastoral responses to meet the pressing needs of those newly arrived, and for those who are in various stages of assimilation into the economic, political, and social life of this country. For the Church to continue as a key institutional touchstone for this growing population, it must remain responsive to the concrete realities, the pressing needs of the people of our own time. Certainly this means attending to the Sacramental needs of newcomers. But it also requires that we be a clear and compelling sacrament of Christ's presence in the world -- feeding the body as well as the soul.
 
What does this entail? More and more we encounter people in our parishes who are foreign-born, newly-arrived and without documentation -- that is, without legal status to reside in the United States. We hear stories of parents who leave their families and friends behind in search of jobs. We learn of loved ones who are unaccounted for, lost in their journey here, many perishing in the desert on the lonely trek north. The storyline of the movie El Norte that premiered in 1983, and portrayed the dangerous and arduous journey of immigrants destined for the United States is, unfortunately, still true today. These tragic tales are part of the Catholic experience in the United States in the early part of the twenty-first century.
 
In the face of this growing problem, pastoral programs and ministerial outreach are essential. But they are not sufficient in themselves. The Church must also respond in the political realm in the form of advocacy in local communities, State legislatures and Congress, in order to ensure that our nation's immigration laws uphold human dignity, protect human life and meet changing circumstances.
 
It is in this light that the Catholic Bishops initiated the Justice for Immigrants Campaign in 2005. We did this in order to focus our advocacy efforts, to coordinate various programs on a national and Diocesan level, and to raise the awareness of the Catholic faithful about the dynamics underpinning the national immigration debate. The message underlying this campaign is that we cannot offer pastoral support to immigrant communities without working to correct the injustices they confront in their everyday lives, helping them to integrate and assimilate to their new home, and addressing the root causes of migration in their home countries.
 
This pastoral task is not much different than at other times in the Church's life in this country, such as when Catholic immigrants from Europe -- mostly Irish, Italian, German, and Polish immigrants -- came in search of better lives and looked to the Catholic Church for assistance in their spiritual, material, and legal needs. Their work, culture, and other contributions helped build this country into a strong and vibrant nation.
 
The political task before us now, however, is in many ways more daunting. Unfortunately, public discourse on this topic is marked by divisive rhetoric and sound bites rather than constructive dialogue and the search for common ground.
 
In speaking with you this evening, I would like to capture the "immigration moment" that is before us and share some thoughts on the role the Church must play in the ongoing national immigration debate.
 
I. The Immigration Moment
 
Since the late 1980s, as many as 40 million immigrants -- both documented and undocumented -- have entered the United States. Nearly one million people enter the U.S. legally each year with the aim of residing here. An additional 300,000 to 500,000 either come from across our southern border with Mexico or enter legally but do not return home when their visa expires. This era -- from the late 1980s until now -- marks the greatest levels of immigration in our nation's history.
 Why such an influx of immigrants? While there are numerous reasons a person would decide to make the perilous journey here, the predominant "push factor" is undoubtedly economic. To use a very concrete example, a Mexican immigrant can earn ten times what he or she makes in a day of work here than he would in Mexico.
 
The reality of globalization has set the stage for many of the contributing factors. While goods, capital, and information can move relatively freely in the global economy, the same is not true for the movement of labor -- people in search of decent jobs and a decent way of life. Laborers -- especially low-skilled workers -- often are restricted from entering areas where employment, driven by the global economy, is more abundant. In order to survive, the most vulnerable must migrate to these jobs, far away from family and homeland, and without the benefit of legal protections necessary to make the trip safely.
 
As workers follow jobs in the global economy, many local communities have struggled to effectively welcome these new arrivals. There are neighborhoods and communities that genuinely struggle with shifting demographics and seek ways of fully integrating new arrivals. Here in the Los Angeles region, neighborhoods that were once predominantly inhabited by white middle-class residents became African-American neighborhoods in the 1960s and 70s. In the 1980s and 90s, those same neighborhoods changed once again as Hispanics and Asians populated those areas. The constant change and flux of neighborhoods often give rise to racial and ethnic tensions that make integration and stability elusive realities.
 
While the economies of industrialized nations like the United States are increasingly dependent on foreign-born workers, racial and ethnic tensions, along with the absence of legal structures to facilitate migration, create obstacles that threaten the fabric of our neighborhoods and communities.
 
Twelve years ago, Proposition 187, the California initiative that sought to deny health care, social services, and public education to anyone suspected of being undocumented, opened the door to a flood of local and State-wide immigration initiatives. Frustration in the face of the lack of effective solutions at the national level fueled action in State legislatures. Aimed primarily at undocumented immigrants, these measures unfortunately had the effect of generating ill-will towards all immigration populations -- both documented and undocumented.
 
The national immigration reform debate over the past two years has become a lightning rod for the deep divisions within our country regarding immigration. This debate takes place in an evermore complicated environment where national security concerns have become a major new factor in the post-9/11 world.
 
In the worst cases, the anti-immigration message has sought to prey upon the fears of Americans and to dehumanize immigrants. Too often these fears are reinforced in the media -- especially talk radio -- by those who seek to sow division and rancor, thereby making civil discourse difficult. In some cases, the tragic events of September 11 have been used to mark all immigrants as potential terrorists and to justify the enactment of harsh enforcement measures that undermine the fairness of our laws without making us more safe. In the end, solutions that are politically expedient are often not sound policy.
 
Most Americans, including most Catholics, are legitimately concerned with the problem of illegal immigration and seek just and lasting solutions to this matter. Some emphasize the need for stronger and more effective enforcement measures while others propose a mix of policies that include providing a path to earned citizenship for undocumented persons. This silent majority generally recognizes the need for and the benefits of immigration, and seeks to balance the rule of law with the desire to remain open to diversity in our culture and our society. It is here that support for just, humane and comprehensive immigration reform can be found.
 
 II. The Church and Immigration Reform
 
All too often when the Church enters the debate on public policy, there are those who question its role in this arena. Some challenge the Church's competence to weigh in on international or domestic matters. Others question the Church's credibility in light of the scandal of sexual abuse among some of its clergy, Religious, and laypersons. Some insist that our political involvement oversteps the line between Church and State. Still others protest our involvement for the simple reason that they disagree with our position on this or that matter.
 
As with any controversial subject, I have received many letters -- some more thoughtful and constructive than others -- that weigh in on immigration and our involvement with it. Comments fall under two broad categories: First, those who question, on a more general level, the Church's role in the policy arena; and, second, those who specifically challenge our position on immigration. I would like now to address these two in turn.
 
 III. The Role of the Church in the Policy Arena
 
The Church's mission is not confined to attending to the spiritual well-being of the person. The Church is concerned with a person's whole human development. We do not gather people on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist and then send them off with only good intentions and well wishes indifferent to what happens to them during the rest of the week. This is the intention of Pope Benedict when he writes that "a Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented." Our worship and witness go hand in hand.
 
The Catholic social ethic puts the person at the center as the starting point for how we view the world. This social ethic is guided by the firm conviction of the inviolable dignity of the person -- a dignity that is not qualified by economic or immigration status, race or gender, time or place. This means that we are concerned with all aspects of people: their spiritual well-being; the opportunities they have to participate in social, political and economic life; avenues available to them for creativity and leisure.
 
In this light, the Church's social teaching is quite clear about the role the Church must take in upholding human dignity by actively working to advance the common good in society. In this context, the common good is not the lowest common denominator that all can agree upon. Instead, it refers to the social, political, and economic environment that affirms human dignity and enables each person to realize his or her full human potential.
 
Gaudium et spes affirms this ecclesial mission when it notes that the Church is to be a "sign and safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person." In other words, the protection of human life and human dignity is of paramount importance to the Church. The way that it does this is through involvement in the public arena. The practical way we ensure that these values are upheld is by making certain that a person has access to those things that make life dignified. When it was promulgated, Pacem in terris provided one of the most extensive and complete pictures of what these rights consist of: adequate food, clothing, and shelter; a quality education; health care; and productive employment that enables people to provide for themselves and their family.
 
The Church's social mission, therefore, has prophetic, pastoral and political dimensions. Its prophetic mission involves evangelization -- sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. In the social context, this good news is a vision of the world aligned with the values of the Kingdom of God. Central to this vision is the privileged place held for the poor, widow, orphan and alien. In sharing this vision we recall the admonitions in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures which reminded Israel and the disciples of Jesus that fidelity to the covenant would be judged by how the poor, widow, orphan and alien are treated. Justice is nothing more, or less, than fidelity to the demands of right relationship with our God and with our neighbor.
 
The irony is that if you look today to see who are the most vulnerable, these are the same ones who are singled out by the prophets: people in poverty; single mothers; children; and immigrants. The challenge of the prophets is for us here and now.
 
The Church's competence to address concerns in the political arena has its source in its social tradition and moral wisdom, on the one hand, and in its pastoral experience on the other. The work and ministry we carry out each day in the areas of education, health care, social services, and international relief and development put us directly in touch with the lives and stories of people of every race and ethnicity, every economic level, and virtually every geographic region in the world. We reflect on those stories and experiences in the light of our tradition and teaching. It is this nexus of moral tradition, social ethic, and pastoral experience that informs our entrance into, and advocacy in, the political realm. Policy advocacy is important because it can have a direct impact on people's lives and, therefore, is an appropriate place for our involvement and activity.
 
This social ethic does not put limits on who the beneficiaries of our advocacy, service, and good will might be. Certainly Pope Benedict intended to make this point when he reflects on the parable of the Good Samaritan and writes that until that time, the concept of "neighbor" was understood as referring essentially to one's countrymen and to foreigners who had settled in the land of Israel; in other words, to the closely-knit community of a single country or people. This limit is now abolished. Anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbor. The concept of "neighbor" is now universalized, yet it remains concrete. Despite being extended to all mankind, it is not reduced to a generic, abstract and undemanding expression of love, but calls for my own practical commitment here and now.
 
So we bring both moral wisdom and pastoral witness to the policy debate on immigration reform. Since we Catholics are present throughout the United States -- in border communities, in urban centers, in rural America -- we have direct knowledge of the human suffering that results from a broken and inadequate immigration system and the strains that immigration can place on local communities. In our parishes, social service programs, hospitals, and schools we meet families that are separated, immigrant workers who are exploited, and migrants who are injured or die along their journey.
  
This moral wisdom and pastoral witness allows us to engage in a broad spectrum of concerns without compromising the integrity of our prophetic mission to advance a culture of life. Certainly the pontificate of Pope John Paul II demonstrated the breadth of the Church's concern while remaining faithful to core values. He was unwavering in his opposition to abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty and took every opportunity to assert that the defense of human life is central to our social ethic. At the same time, he denounced war and other forms of violence within, between and among nations; it was through his initiative that the Vatican took such a significant role in advancing international debt relief for developing countries as part of the Jubilee celebrations leading up to and after the year 2000; his Encyclical Laborem exercens, promulgated in 1981, reaffirmed Church teaching on the dignity of work and the rights of workers; and he sought to shed light on both the opportunities and potential dangers of advancements in biomedical research.
 
Pope John Paul II's prophetic witness was a constant reminder to the Church and to the world that these concerns are not just medical, economic, or political in nature but rather are matters with clear human and moral dimensions. He sought to remind Church leaders, the lay faithful, and Catholics involved in political life, that the compartmentalization of faith and daily life was inconsistent with the proclamation of the Gospel and advancement of God's Reign. The integrity of his message and the breadth of his vision served as an affirmation for the Church's involvement to prevent the more egregious affronts to human life as well as those circumstances that can gradually but methodically undermine human dignity, threaten human life, and erode the human spirit.
 
In addressing the unity of love of God and love of neighbor, Pope Benedict is clear in reminding us that "love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvelous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love." The love we want to embody "seeks the integral good of man."
 
No one single issue, regardless of its importance or moral weight, exhausts our responsibility in the public arena.
 
In assessing the matter of immigration today, elected officials, especially Catholics, have an obligation to consider the human and moral dimensions of various proposals and the degree to which they affirm or threaten human life and human dignity.
 
IV. From Principles to Policy: The Framework for Treating Newcomers Justly
 
So in entering the public dialogue on immigration, the Church is guided by rich tradition and deep experience. In this light, I would like to share five principles outlined by the Catholic Bishops of the United States and Mexico in our landmark Pastoral Letter, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope, released in 2003, and apply them to the policy proposals which have been considered in Congress this year. The five principles are as follows:
 
1. Persons have the right to remain home and find opportunities in their homeland.
 
This is the first principle because it provides for the best and longest lasting solution to the challenge of irregular immigration. Persons should not be compelled to leave their families and undertake a perilous journey in order to feed them. Who would not prefer to remain at home and find work there? No one could possibly relish the thought of leaving country and family, embark on a long and dangerous journey, only to arrive at a place where you are apt to face exploitation and marginalization. In the first instance, immigrating to the United States is most often not an aspiration but an act of desperation.
 
Recently, the Inter-American Developmental Bank reported that immigrants to the U.S. sent back $45 billion to their home countries, a de facto economic development program. While the submission of remittances to these nations is positive in the short-term, in the long-term it could serve as a dis-incentive to those governments from doing more to promote the creation of jobs for their people at home. Here we see the need for increased bi-lateral and multi-lateral development assistance to our neighbors as well as for other types of political support to them as they seek to develop the economic infrastructure that enables their citizens to remain at home.
 
The world we want to create is one in which migration is driven by choice, not necessity. Sadly, however, the Congressional immigration debate to date has been bereft of any substantive discussion about the economic root causes of irregular immigration as well as of creative solutions to address these concerns.
 
2. Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.
 
In the absence of an economy that provides sustainable wage jobs, persons should be able to migrate in order to find employment to support their families. Nations, in serving the international common good, should attempt to accommodate immigration, relative to the common good of their citizens, while simultaneously promoting economic development, political stability, and the strengthening of civil society in immigrants' countries of origin.
 
3. Sovereign nations have a right to control their borders.
 
A sovereign nation has the right to control its borders. This right should be exercised in a manner that protects human dignity and human life, takes positive steps towards facilitating legal immigration, provides safe haven for refugees, and promotes the international common good. Border enforcement policies are one way in which a nation exercises the right to regulate immigration. As such, these measures should be fair, humane and just and not contribute to human suffering or jeopardize human life.
 
4. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.
 
Those who flee political persecution and terror around the world should be provided safe haven by their neighbors and not sent back to their persecutors.
 
5. The human rights and human dignity of undocumented immigrants should be respected.
 
Once again, human dignity is not something that can be earned, forfeited or taken away. Our dignity has an inviolable character because we are persons created in the image of God. Recognizing this, immigration policy must actively seek to affirm this dignity and provide protections against the erosion of basic human rights.
 
These broad yet basic principles provide a general framework for the development of fair and just immigration policy. While these principles do not yield detailed legislation, they do provide a lens through which proposed measures can be judged and evaluated. The challenge is always one of moving from general principles to concrete policy. Oftentimes, it requires reconciling rights that are held in tension with one another.
 
For instance, how is it that, on the one hand, a person has a right to migrate out of economic necessity or to protect his life and that of his family and, on the other hand, a sovereign nation has the right to control its borders? Do these principles not conflict?
 
Neither of these rights is absolute. They must be balanced by several other factors including that of: 1) the ability of the receiving country to receive immigrants, and 2) that of the immigrant's home country to provide economic opportunity. A more powerful and stable economic country like the United States may have a higher obligation to receive immigrants than a poorer, less developed neighbor. Two factors should shape our response: 1) the capacity of the United States to accept immigrants, and 2) the recognition that our economy needs and benefits from this immigrant labor force. To reap such tremendous benefits from an immigrant labor force without reciprocating with opportunities for those workers to regularize their status is not just.
 
These five principles have been used as a basic framework to assess many of the proposals discussed in Congress over the past two years. In the light of these principles, comprehensive reform would include the following elements:
 
Measures that address the economic and political root causes of migration in countries of origin;
 
A program that provides the undocumented population with an opportunity to earn citizenship;
 
Reform of the employment-based and family-based immigration system that would create legal avenues for migrants and their families to migrate legally and in a more timely fashion; and
 
The restoration of due process protections for immigrants.
 
Why do the Catholic Bishops in the United States believe that the passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill is a needed first step? Let us look at some of the facts.
 
Recall that the United States is experiencing a historic wave of immigration. Since 1986, which is the last time Congress legalized undocumented persons in the United States, an estimated 12 million persons have arrived and currently reside in an undocumented status.
 
While these immigrants contribute to our economic and cultural vitality, immigration policy does not facilitate their legal entry into the United States. Current policy fails to account for the fact that, in many ways, our economy encourages the flow of illegal immigration into the country and is dependent on their labor. Our vital economy has created a magnet attracting needed workers to our land.
 
Current enforcement measures are tailored to stop immigrants at the border. However, once immigrants enter the country, we accept their labor and other contributions to our economy. This results in an incongruent policy in which migrants become subject to exploitation.
 
Take but one example. Since 1994, when the Federal government first employed a border blockade strategy along our southern border, our nation has spent almost $30 billion on border enforcement alone. During the same period, the number of undocumented immigrants in our country has nearly doubled. And tragically, during this same period the number of migrant deaths has doubled as well climbing to nearly 3,000 -- most of these deaths occurred while attempting to cross into this country through the desert.
 
For those who survive the gauntlet at the border or otherwise enter the United States, ninety-five percent obtain employment. These persons work in industries essential to our economy -- manufacturing, construction, agriculture, and service -- and contribute billions of dollars to our tax and Social Security systems each year.
 
To compound matters, while on the one hand the U.S. economy benefits significantly from the labor of undocumented immigrants, the immigration system fails to provide legal avenues for them to migrate in a safe, legal, and orderly fashion. It fails to permit their family members to join them in a timely way. And, of course, it does not legally recognize the large group of undocumented workers who live in our communities and relegates them to a permanent underclass in our society.
 
There are only a relatively small number of visas available to the unskilled worker in the current system: 5,000 per year come in as permanent residents and two small programs -- the H2-A program for agriculture and the H2-B program for other industries -- grant less than 100,000 work visas per year, and that on a temporary basis.
 
In the family immigration system, the waiting times for family reunification of immediate family members are interminable. Because of annual caps and per country limits, a Mexican worker with permanent residence in the United States must wait as long as ten years to bring his wife and children to join him legally in the United States. The wait is longer in other family categories and for other nations, such as the Philippines. Such delays lead to family disintegration and encourage undocumented migration when family members forego the long waits in order to join their family member illegally instead of being separated for years.
 
And, of course, so many of these undocumented people live in fear in the shadows of our communities. They are subject to government raids in which fathers are traumatically torn from children and spouses. They are exploited in the workplace, working for less than minimum wage, in substandard conditions, and without access to the basic rights afforded to other workers. They are unable to adjust their legal status without marriage or an employment sponsor and, even then, the number of green cards available to them is limited.
 
So, given the evidence, our country's immigration system is woefully inadequate for our times. It needs to be reformed to confront the realities of migration, of global economic forces, and of our own economic needs in the twenty-first century.
 
This is true because our country will continue to need unskilled laborers well into the future, as birth rates fall and baby boomers retire. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the economy is expected to create 56 million new jobs between 2002 and 2012, with half those jobs in industries which require low-skilled workers. With our nation's unemployment rate steady at 4.4%, immigrants are not taking jobs away from Americans born and raised here.
 
Thus, a comprehensive immigration reform bill would accomplish two vital objectives: It would help protect the basic rights of immigrants and their families, while also serving the economic long-term interest of our nation.
 
In offering these points as essential elements of fair and just immigration policy reform, we are not suggesting that these will completely end the flow of illegal immigration. Immigration is, to say the least, a complex matter and does not lend itself to easy solutions. No single piece of legislation will on its own solve the problem of irregular immigration. No fence, no matter how long or how tall, will end its flow. For comprehensive reform to succeed and provide a lasting remedy, international cooperation and a genuine commitment are called for in order to narrow the gap between rich and poor nations.
 
These principles and elements, however, will point us in the right direction. Only in this way will long-term solutions be found.
 
V. The Road Ahead
 
Congress to date has not taken the necessary action to address the "immigration moment" in our country.
 
Unfortunately, neither the bill passed by the House of Representatives nor that of the U.S. Senate contains the necessary elements to meet the challenge of illegal immigration in our nation. To be fair, the Senate bill marks a step in the right direction though it falls far short of comprehensive reform. The original House measure, an enforcement-only proposal, would in my view and that of my brother Bishops make the immigration system even more unjust and cause undue suffering.
 
The Church in all its members must continue to push public opinion and policymakers towards truly comprehensive reform. Just as important, we must continue to educate Catholics about immigration in the light of our faith, in the context of our teaching, and out of the wisdom of our experience. We should seize this as a practical opportunity to respond to the challenge that Pope Benedict puts before us through Deus caritas est by making the love of God and love of neighbor palpable and real. 
 
It is my hope that the new Congress finds the political will to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Similarly, I pray that the Church maintains its moral will to stand with the poor and vulnerable.
 
We have several factors in our favor. First, I firmly believe that the policy arguments for comprehensive immigration reform are sound. They match the reality we see each day in our workplaces and communities.
 
Second, despite the rhetoric of those who seek to use immigration to divide our communities, I believe that the people of this nation are a compassionate and welcoming people who do not want a nation divided.
 
Third, I believe that when the Church can organize and speak with a clear voice as it has in the past, it can be a potent force for positive social change. The Justice for Immigrants Campaign is making inroads not only by collaborating with immigrant rights organizations but also by working with the Catholic faithful around the country who care deeply about their faith and how they embody that faith in practical discipleship.
 
And fourth, a new Congress has been elected. I am hopeful that the new Congress will work closely with the President to enact meaningful and just immigration reform in 2007.
 
 VI. Conclusion
 
In conclusion, I would like to share a few brief thoughts about how this whole discussion might inform the ministry of the seminarians present here this evening.
 
From the earliest days of my priesthood, I worked with immigrants here in California. Their struggles, the depth of their faith, and their great spirit have been a formative force in my priesthood. For me, these privileged experiences have confirmed the wisdom of our social teaching, the relevance of our pastoral ministry, and the power of our prophetic witness.
 
In your parish ministry, I would encourage you to listen actively and attentively to the stories of your parishioners regardless of whether that person is the chief executive of a thriving business or the janitor who cleans his office every night. Listen to as many stories as you can of both the affluent and the poor, long time residents or newly arrived immigrants. Let those stories touch you and shape you. I believe that if you do this with a faithful heart, you will see how God is leading you to be a more faithful disciple and humble servant to God's people.
 
There is no need for you to become a policy expert. But you should know that our advocacy is important because of how policies impact people's lives.
 
There is no need for you to become a social worker. But you should support those in your parish communities who seek to feed, clothe, shelter and visit those in need.
 
There is no need for you to be a social scientist. But you should understand that the role of the Church and the vocation of Catholics is to reshape and reorganize society so that it better reflects the values and vision of the Kingdom of God.
 
As a priest, you cannot do it all. But you can animate, inspire, and lead people to think about our world differently, a world shaped by the understanding that we love God by loving our neighbor in practical and tangible ways.
 
Thank you. God Bless you, and may God be glorified in all you say and in all you do!