Mass Draws on ‘Justice for Immigrants’ Program

Times Staff Writers

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, returning once more to a theme advanced by U.S. Roman Catholic Church leaders, declared Wednesday a day of prayer and fasting for “just and humane immigration legislation.”

“This is probably one of the most critical weeks in the history of our country, in this new millennium and in this new century,” Mahony said, referring to the ongoing deliberations over illegal immigration policies. “The United States Senate has the opportunity, at long last, after 20 years of inaction, of passing a new law that deals with all aspects of immigration.”

The church has always used prayer and fasting for the most urgent and important needs, Mahony said during a Mass at the downtown Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. He said that Southern Californians should ask God to intervene and move elected leaders to pass laws protecting the rights and dignity of illegal immigrants.


The cardinal added that he was disappointed by the shrill rhetoric sometimes used in the immigration debate, calling it mean-spirited.

“We are called to take the gifts, the fruits of the Holy Spirit and to be a people who have a different attitude, who do not judge,” he said. Mahony’s remarks reflected the tone and substance of a three-year campaign launched by the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in May to promote immigrant rights.

The campaign has upset some church members, who call it an inappropriate blend of politics and religion.

But just how is the “Justice for Immigrants” campaign being waged?

A look at the parish kit distributed to the nation’s 197 dioceses offers insights into how the bishops intend to deliver their message.

The kit, which the conference began distributing by the thousands in January, shows local parishes how to launch their own immigration rights campaigns. The kit also offers practical tips -- “Proofread your press release at least twice” -- to more nuanced advice on how to answer questions about immigration.

The kit offers suggestions on how to write to legislators, how to stage a news conference and how to teach children about immigrant issues. It also offers prayers and biblical passages related to immigration.

Examples follow. The paragraphs set off by black boxes are taken verbatim from the kit.



The kit offers “An Alien’s Prayer” and nine examples of “intersessions,” in which a leader makes an appeal and the congregation responds. Here are four examples. The first two intersessions were used during Wednesday’s Mass.

* For an end to the violence and poverty that displaces so many people from their homes and homelands, we pray to the Lord.

Response: Lord, hear our prayer.

* For our leaders, that they may implement policies that allow for safe migration, just migrant working conditions and an end to the detention of asylum-seekers, while protecting our national safety, we pray to the Lord.

Response: Lord, hear our prayer.

* For migrant workers, that they may labor in safe and justice conditions, and that we who benefit from their labor may be truly grateful for what they provide, we pray to the Lord.

Response: Lord, hear our prayer.

* For unaccompanied migrant children, that they may be protected from all harm and reunited with loving families, we pray to the Lord.

Response: Lord, hear our prayer.



The kit offers suggested activities for teaching children about immigration. The activities, like the rest of the kit’s recommendations, are rooted in a 2003 joint pastoral letter on immigration by U.S. and Mexican bishops.

Referring to the letter, the kit says, “Instilling these values as part of our education programs will enable us to be people who will welcome all newcomers into parishes and communities.”

Some activities for younger children:

* The Good Samaritan parable illustrates how Jesus wants us to respond to those in need who may be different from us. Talk about simple ways that children can be welcoming and neighborly to immigrants, refugees and migrants.

* Teach a rhyme or verse in a different language.

* Discuss the many reasons that immigrants and refugees come to the United States; lack of food, work, or shelter in their homeland; persecution for religious or political reasons; war; violence; famine; drought; and family separation.

Some activities for youth:

* Hold a cartoon contest in which the students illustrate unjust treatment of immigrants throughout U.S. history.

* Find examples of current treatment of immigrants. Using those examples, evaluate government policy in the light of the human rights teachings of the church.

* Write letters to the U.S. Congress regarding just immigration laws.

* Have students research the requirements for becoming a citizen. For an action response, have youth volunteers at local agencies help immigrants prepare for citizenship tests.


Feast days

The kit suggests that feast days can be used to underscore themes of the Justice for Immigrants campaign. Examples:

* On certain feast days, it may be appropriate to raise questions about laws that deny immigrants the human rights of housing, education and healthcare.

* On Right to Life Sunday, one could raise awareness of the hundreds that die crossing the desert in an attempt to come to the United States for a better life and how immigration policies currently do not reflect our respect for life.

* On a day such as Thanksgiving, you can lift up farmworkers to thank God for their efforts and to inform the congregation about the dehumanizing conditions in which they often find themselves.



The kit offers a variety of Scripture readings touching on immigration and suggests they may be used in sermons, discussions or other forums. Examples:

Exodus 23:9

You must not oppress the stranger; you know how a stranger feels, for you lived as strangers in the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:33-34

If a stranger lives with you in your land, do not molest him. You must count him as one of your own countrymen and love him as yourself -- for you were once strangers in Egypt. I am Yahweh your God.

Isaiah 10:1-2

Woe to the legislators of infamous laws, to those who issue tyrannical decrees, who refuse justice to the unfortunate and cheat the poor among my people of their rights, who make widows their prey, and rob the orphan.

Colossians 3:12-13

You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience.