Bishop Wenski Homily of the Migration Day Mass

Second Sunday of Lent: Migration Day Mass
March 7, 2004

The theme of today’s Migration Day Mass is “Together on the journey” – an appropriate theme considering the Scriptures we have just heard. Jesus too is on a journey – a journey that will ultimately take him to Jerusalem and to his passion. However, he first stops to pray – and on a mountaintop in the presence of three of his apostles, he is transfigured in their presence. His glory of his Divinity– normally hidden in his humanity – is briefly revealed. This transfiguration – this manifestation of Jesus in his glory – is a prelude to – but also an explanation of – what he was about to endure in Jerusalem when he resumes his journey.

As members of his Church, we are a pilgrim people who continue that same journey today. Today, we also take time out to pray. We go to the mountaintop in a figurative sense, for as people of faith we go every Sunday to Mass. Today’s Mass – indeed, every Mass – is a re-presentation of Calvary’s Sacrifice – but it is also a pledge of our future glory. In the Mass, God once again renews his Covenant of Love and his Promise us that we will one day share in his Glory. And so, like Peter, we too can exclaim: it is good for us to be here. And we, though many are made one Body in the Body of Christ we receive in Holy Communion and so are strengthen by Christ to continue with him on the journey of life whose final destination is the glory of heaven. For, like Peter, we cannot stay on the mountain top. We must go down with Jesus to the valley for the Road to Glory – for Jesus and for us – passes through the Way of the Cross.

Today, we celebrate the diversity of our diocese. Today, we wish to celebrate that we are people of all races, languages, cultural and social groups, but we are together on that journey with Jesus.

We are blessed to count within our diocese a number of ethnic groups – with the distinct customs and languages. We have in this diocese, people who come from literally every continent of our globe, except Antarctica. This diversity is for us Catholics a sign of the Universality of the Church. The word, Catholic, comes from the Greek, Katolikos, and means universal. The gospel of Jesus announces that salvation is universal, that it is catholic: he sent us to proclaim the gospel to all peoples. And if salvation is catholic, then the Church found by Jesus on the Rock of Peter must necessarily be Catholic – catholic not only because of her acceptance of all the teachings of Christ; but also catholic in her people.

The gospel is not foreign to any culture, race or people – for gospel can make its home in every culture, race, and people and because of that every race, language and people, are called to become children of God the Father through baptism. Our unity is based not common origins, common language, common culture – our unity is based on a common faith, a common baptism, a common Lord who calls all of humanity to the glory of heaven through his passion, death and resurrection.

Diversity does not cause division in the Body of Christ, it enriches that Body which is the Church – only sin can divide us. We should fear sin; we have nothing to fear from diversity. For this reason, the Catholic Church in the United States wished to affirm the contributions of the newcomer to the life of the Church here in America, through their Bishops’ Pastoral Letter: Welcoming the Stranger: Unity in Diversity,

You bring many gifts. You, newcomers, are already a force for the renewal of the Church in America. Your presence among us can be the antidote to the crisis of faith experienced by too many American born Catholics.

Through your faith, through your commitment to family life, through your openness to vocations to the priesthood and religious life, through your popular piety; you are bringing to the Catholic Church in America a new and welcomed vitality. To cite just one example of the vitality that immigrants contribute to our Catholic life, let me remind you that in May, when six new priests will be ordained to the service of the Church in Orlando – only one of them would have been born here in the United States.

The Catholic Church in Orlando – in its priests and in its peoples – is looking more Catholic all the time. And let us thank God for this. At the same time, let us ask God that the Church in Orlando not only to look Catholic but to be Catholic – so all feel at home in this Church.

Jesus, God Incarnate, was a Jew in every sense of the word, since he was sent first to the lost sheep of Israel. Like Jesus, the Church must make present the mystery of the incarnation through her enculturation within the various cultures in which she is present. Like St. Paul, the Church in preaching the good news of salvation must strive to be all things to all men. The integration of the newcomer into the local Church does not mean that he must surrender what makes him unique at the door but that his unique gifts be accepted and honored. For, he does come bearing many gifts.

To be a good Catholic here or anywhere else, you don’t have to change your culture, you don’t have to change your traditions, you don’t have to change your language, you just have to change your hearts.

Ask any child: what is the Church? He would most likely answer: the Church is God’s House. If the Church is the Father’s house, then all who are his children should feel at home – and the best way to make someone feel at home is to speak their mother’s tongue. As the numbers of newcomers continue to grow in our diocese, we must make greater efforts that Church is visible to them, ministering to them and their needs in their language, within their culture and with appropriate and adequate pastoral structures. And we must make greater efforts that these newcomers are more visible in our Church and in our parishes.

About two weeks ago, I gave a talk in the diocese of Houston, Texas on this same theme. Before my talk, there was a sociologist who presented something of the new demographic reality of that urban area – which is not much different than our own here in Orlando. He listed the new populations of Asians, of Hispanics; he compared them to the percentages of American Americans and Anglos, etc. After he finished, I began my presentation but first I shared with the audience what I said to Bishop Fiorenza while this scholar was talking. I said: what a difference a hundred years makes: he’s counting you and me as Anglos.

A hundred years ago, immigrants from Eastern Europe and Italy faced some of the same prejudices that the newer populations face today. Few of us American Catholics can trace our ancestry back to the Mayflower. We are not that far removed from the immigration experience – and for that very reason, we should be more open, more sensitive to the newcomer – and for that reason, less we allow ourselves to be so completely assimilated to the WASP culture that discriminated against our grandparents or great grandparents, we should also be forceful advocates of just and fair immigration policies.

As the gospel reminds us today, we all have to journey with Jesus to glory but by way of the cross. Nevertheless, for too many immigrants and too many refugees, our present immigration policies, add needless sufferings to their journeys. We need more Veronica’s today. We need more Simons today to console the migrant and to help lift the heavy burdens that they shoulder.

This past week we have seen troubling precedents against our nation’s commitments to provide protection to vulnerable refugee populations. Haitian boat people were summarily returned to harm’s way without the opportunity to seek asylum. In the past five years, more than 2000 people, many women and children, have died in the desert along the Mexican-United States border. Many women and children cross the border because they are desperate to reunite themselves with their husbands and fathers working in the US because even for a legal U.S. resident the wait to reunite his spouse through legal migration might take more than 10 years. More and more, we find women and children trafficked into the U.S. for prostitution and other types of exploitation.

Our immigration system today is broken. The U.S. and Mexican bishops wrote a pastoral entitled, Strangers no longer: together on the journey of hope. In that pastoral, we outline principles of Catholic social teaching that can help offer a solution that serves both the immigrant and our respective national interests. As Catholics we must engage ourselves in that necessary conversation about immigration. We welcome President Bush’s recent reopening of this conversation. He proposes some changes to our immigration laws. We must work that there will be not just some changes but rather changes that are just.

The Catholic Church here in Orlando, here in the United States must recommit herself to welcoming the stranger. We must advocate on his behalf to secure better, and more just immigration laws. We must oppose the nativist, anti-immigrant sentiment that is once again raising its ugly head in our society. To do that, we only have to remember where we have come from ourselves. We must see ourselves in the Migrant.

As Catholics, we must welcome the stranger to our assembly, breaking the bread of live with him who, in Christ, is no longer a stranger but a brother, a sister. We must see Christ in the Migrant.

As St. Peter told Jesus in today’s gospel: “It is good for us to be here.”

Most Rev. Thomas Wenski
Bishop of Orlando

Homily at Orlando Diocese’s Migration Day Mass – St. James’ Cathedral