The Pope, immigration and Father Junipero Serra

A statue of Father Junipero Serra. (Photo: stjunipero.org)

Social equality, human dignity, and health and justice for all. These are pillars to the papacy of Pope Francis, and I’m honored to have been part of the canonization of Father Junipero Serra concelebrating the Eucharist with him this week at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Father Serra was one of California’s first immigrants in 1769. Nearly 250 years later, Californians – whose state is now home to more than 10 million immigrants – watched closely as Pope Francis addressed a joint session of Congress the following day the canonization.

Pope Francis has been a champion for immigrant rights around the globe. In fact, his first trip outside of Rome, in the summer of 2013, was a visit to Lampedusa, a small island off the Italian coast where thousands of refugees from Africa have come ashore. Just this month, Pope Francis issued an urgent plea for all religious communities in Europe to welcome migrant families into their sanctuaries.

It appears Californians are finally beginning to embrace all immigrants.

The ongoing European refugee crisis stands to serve as a global backdrop when the Pope addresses – and likely prioritizes – immigration issues during his visit to our beloved United States. The topic is fitting, considering our nation was founded by immigrants in search of a better life. Hope and the promise for a better future is what still motivates immigrants to cross our borders.,

While most immigrants in California are documented residents, we should not discount our undocumented community members who are not illegal residents but undocumented residents. Undocumented Californians are not only our friends, neighbors and loved ones, they are also important contributors to our state. Undocumented Californians pay 3.2 billion dollars in taxes each year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Nine out of 10 undocumented Californians have jobs and spend most of what they earn back into the economy.

It appears Californians are finally beginning to embrace all immigrants. Just last month, a new Field Poll found the majority of voters in California believe everyone should have access to affordable health care, no matter their immigration status. As it is now, some 1.4 million undocumented Californians are blocked from this important human right.

Last Fall in a publication called Health Progress by the Catholic Health Association of the United States, author Ron Hamel, Ph.D., called Pope Francis a “disruptor” in health care, writing that the Pope’s “emphasis on the poor challenges us to move beyond our current ethical preoccupations and… increase our attention… to a host of other issues related to justice and those who are vulnerable and on the margins.” He questions whether Catholics, who often contemplate ethical matters that arise in the clinical setting (reproductive rights, etc.), spend enough time reflecting ethically on disparities, health care for immigrants, the homeless, and the mentally ill, amongst others.

It’s a sentiment Pope Francis is likely to continue to inspire both here in the United States and around the globe, especially as immigration issues continue to be in the forefront of the world.

Social equality, human dignity, and health and justice for all. These are not just the Pope’s priorities. They are God’s will.

Ed’s Note: Father Ken Laverone is the pastor of Saint Francis Assisi Church in Sacramento and provincial vicar of the Franciscan Province of Santa Barbara.


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