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Expect to hear more immigration homilies as US bishops ramp up advocacy

Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration.
Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration.
Courtesy Archdiocese of Los Angeles

It's been pretty quiet the past few years in Catholic churches on the immigration front. Sermons have tackled a long list of other Catholic social justice issues. But it's likely you'll be hearing about immigration from the pulpit sometime soon.

As Congress debates immigration reform, bishops want lawmakers to hear from their Catholic constituents on the topic.

To help local parishes organize, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development announced this week it is kicking in $800,000 in grants — bringing a total of more than $3.5 million just in the past year — to support grassroots organizations working locally on immigration reform.

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, who chairs the CCHD subcommittee, says the push for immigration reform is "rooted in Catholic social teaching about the dignity of the human person and reflects the Church's deep historic ties to generations of immigrants who have come to America."

Catholic bishops have been active on the immigration issue for decades. In fact, the former head of the L.A. Archdiocese, Cardinal Roger Mahony, was a national leader on immigration reform. His successor, Archbishop José H. Gomez, chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration.

Kevin Appleby, director of the bishops’ Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs, says the last national push was back in 2007. Since then, he says, the recession pushed immigration reform "off the table" in Washington.

But with immigration "back on the front burner," says Appleby, local diocese will be doing more.

Under U.S. tax law, the Catholic Church and other non-profit organizations are allowed to spend funds on "issue advocacy," but not advocate for any particular candidate.

To help diocese organize, the new grants will go to groups like PICO, a faith-based organization that works with local parishes, and the Justice for Immigrants Campaign, an initiative by Catholic bishops to "educate Catholics on Church teaching about immigration."

The Justice for Immigrants website features a postcard asking members of Congress to support reform that includes a path to citizenship and "legal paths for low-skilled immigrant workers to come and work in the United States."

Appleby says local Catholics are likely to see see inserts in their bulletin, announcements from the pulpit, and "hopefully" homilies during Mass. More than 60 percent of Catholics agree with the bishops on the issue of immigration, he says.

The challenge is to get them to pick up the phone or write a letter to their representatives on Capitol Hill, says Appleby.

As Congress begins hearings, Bishop Soto says there's an "urgent need to mobilize resources efficiently in order to meet the challenge when the possibility for real immigration reform has never been closer."