On a warm Monday afternoon in early September, there was a Mass in the Cathedral Basilica to welcome our new Archbishop. The Mass was followed by a cookout at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center. It was a beautiful day. Tables were set up outside and the grills were fired up. Many archdiocesan employees gathered outside and were greeted by Archbishop Chaput.

In the midst of all the excitement a young man wandered into the hamburger and hot dog eating crowd looking for the Archdiocesan Immigration office. Instead of the Office, he found himself face to face with our new Archbishop, who realizing that the man spoke Spanish, took him by the hand and brought him up to the seventh floor Office for Hispanic Catholics.

The Haitian man, speaking perfect Spanish, explained that he had been sent by his pastor at Incarnation of Our Lord. He needed help. The wonderful Sisters of St. Joseph at the Welcome Center have been a great help to him. He now has working papers and is on his way to living the American dream.

Here in Philadelphia, for many, many years, this same cycle has been repeated over and over again, that is, of course, with the exception of the direct intervention of the Archbishop.

Religious women and men, priests and deacons and lay faithful have taken our immigrant sisters and brothers by the hand, leading them, helping to open doors for them and guiding them on the path toward achieving the American dream.

In June 2004, the United States Conference of Catholics Bishops (USCCB) resolved to make humane and just immigration reform a public policy priority for the Catholic Church. They have stated clearly and repeatedly that just immigration reform is a Catholic issue.

A diverse group of Catholic organizations with national networks has joined the USCCB’s Justice for Immigrants Campaign (JFI). In the past few years, JFI has been able to unite a growing number of Catholic institutions in support of comprehensive immigration reform as articulated in the Bishops’ pastoral, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.”

Our Archdiocese, together with six other (arch)dioceses, has been invited by the Justice for Immigrants Campaign of the USCCB to take part in a year long project. Through educational programs and activities the coordinator of the project will create opportunities for sharing and dialogue among Catholics whose lives are directly affected by immigration, Catholics who are not immigrants, but live in communities that are being changed by immigration, and clergy, religious and laity who already have a grasp of immigration issues in the light of Catholic social teaching.

The goal is to gather parishioners together to pray, reflect and act on the USCCB plan for just immigration reform.

JFI has given the Archdiocese a grant for this work to cover the cost of the coordinator and materials. As part of the grant, JFI has asked us to work in collaboration with POWER, a non-profit, non-partisan, faith-based community organization here in Philadelphia. POWER is part of the PICO network.
If you would like more information about this project, or if you are interested in having your parish participate,  contact James King, director of the Office for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees, at 215-587-3540 or contact the project coordinator, Kay Cid, directly at kcid@powerphiladelphia.org or by cell: 347-217-2164.
This JFI Project is humble effort in comparison to the many great acts of kindness and advocacy of so many individuals groups and parishes in our Archdiocese who day by day accompany our Catholic immigrant brothers and sisters. They “welcome the stranger” everyday in our Archdiocese. We owe them our gratitude.
Pray for the religious women and men, priests and deacons and lay faithful who dedicate their lives to the service of our immigrant sisters and brothers. Pray too for our immigrant brothers and sisters, for just immigration reform, and for the continued success of this important work.

Redemptorist Father Bruce Lewandowski is the archdiocesan Vicar for Cultural Ministries.