By Denise Peterson
Special to The CS&T

“As Catholics, it is our moral responsibility to uphold the cause of the immigrant.” Words like those were echoed by speaker after speaker and by more than 100 participants at the Justice for Immigrants Regional Convening at Malvern Retreat House last week.

The convening was held Oct. 7-9 in Malvern for Catholics from the Mid-Atlantic region, and featured speakers from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Justin Rigali and a panel of political organizers who focused on the message of immigration reform.

One of the important underpinnings of the conference was the conviction that Catholic beliefs should inform social and political actions.

“We’re trying to get people to live up to what their faith says they should believe and how they should demonstrate that in how they live their lives,” said Johnny Young, executive director of Migration and Refugee Services of the USCCB and a former U.S. ambassador. “We believe that compels us to try to correct the system and correct the wrongs that are in the present set-up. We have a system that doesn’t treat the migrant without papers very nicely. We exploit them. We think that one way to live up to our faith is to work for legislation that will set the record straight.”

To give participants ideas of how to put their faith into action, attorneys and political organizers were invited to give presentations at the gathering. Representatives from Reform Immigration for America, America’s Voice and Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition were among those who shared information.

“The question is, what kind of country do we want to be? Do we want to be a country of exclusion, or a country of welcome that our faith calls us to be, and that our history has shown us to be?” asked Patty Kupfer, a presenter from America’s Voice.

Cardinal Rigali celebrated Mass on Thursday morning. As part of his homily, the Cardinal reminded participants that their faith should be put into action not just out of a sense of social justice, but because Jesus himself was a migrant.

“Sin is the ultimate cause of spanision and disruption,” The Cardinal said, and “when we uphold the human dignity and human rights of the undocumented, we welcome Jesus.”

Young presented the Cardinal with an award from the USCCB for his work on behalf of the immigrant community. The award recognized the Cardinal for his “compassionate concern for migrants and refugees,” Young said.

“Your expert and untiring leadership ensured the Church’s presence in the lives of these the least of God’s children. Your vision for a welcoming and responsive Church will continue to inspire and motivate the work of the USCCB Committee on Migration and staff.”

The convening was one of many events around the Archdiocese to educate Catholics about immigration reform, which Congress expects to work on in early 2010.

For more information on the USCCB’s position on policy issues, visit

Denise Peterson is a freelance writer. in Philadelphia.