Books help young to be welcoming people
By THOMAS C. FOX
These two complementary publications, aimed at the education of elementary and secondary school students, attest to the best ideals of the Catholic church in the late 20th century. They are based on the fully Christian but wholly countercultural idea that all of us, the entire human race, belong to the same family. We are all children of God.
If we believe this, then how should we act with regard to those family members who are not living within our nation's borders but might have reason to do so?
It is easy to get down on organized religion, the work of all too ordinary human beings who sometimes do not, in words or actions, live up to faith ideals.
This does not appear to be the case when it comes to our church's immigrant and refugee history, nor the ideals of its current teachings and programs regarding immigrants and refugees.
The Catholic church in the United States, the product of several generations of Catholic immigrants and refugees, remains today a singular voice on behalf of these often marginalized groups. When others are saying, "Close the doors, erect higher walls," Catholic voices continue to speak out for understanding, imploring our nation and its peoples to remain welcoming peoples.
Let's be honest. It is not popular to be welcoming of strangers to our land today. Across the land the feeling spreads that somehow we need to break with our traditions to "take care of our own." Not far beneath this sentiment is a prejudice against people of color who, it is argued, will "dilute" a Western European heritage.
Into this situation comes Who are my Sisters and Brothers?: A Catholic Educational Guide for Understanding and Welcoming Immigrants and Refugees and its companion booklet, Who are my Sisters and Brothers?: Reflections on Understanding and Welcoming Immigrants and Refugees.
The 269-page book is a curriculum guide for Catholic schools and religious education programs (K-12), for youth retreats, teacher/catechist in-service programs and for parent and other adult sessions.
The companion book offers reflections by educators and consultants on the following topics: "Refugees Today: Rescue or Containment?"; "Catholic Church Teachings and Documents Regarding Immigration: Theological Reflection on Immigration"; "The Rights of People Regarding Migration: A Perspective from Catholic Social Teaching"; "Immigrants, Catholics and the Making of the American People"; "United States Immigration and Refugee Policy: The Legal Framework"; and "Immigrant Families in Cultural Transition."
These are first-rate tools to shape the knowledge, attitudes, values and skills that will enable the young to be welcoming people. These creatively designed booklets were collaboratively produced by the Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees and the Department of Education of the United States Catholic Conference. They have been developed to respond to growing anti-immigrant sentiment in America.
It was Pope John Paul II who reminded Americans during his last trip to the United States to care for "the poor, the weak, the strangers, the needy." Consider these booklets a direct response to that call.
Who are My Sisters and Brothers? represents the first time that the U.S. Catholic community has produced a guide on immigration for use in schools and religious education programs. As Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, a member of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, has said: "Never before has the need been so great!"
Tom Fox is publisher and editor of NCR.
National Catholic Reporter, February 28, 1997