SAN ANTONIO (CNS) — At the opening Mass of the Knights of Columbus 131st supreme convention Aug. 6, the feast of the Transfiguration, attendees heard comments of congratulations for their charitable efforts as well as a challenge to do more for immigration reform.
In his homily, San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller greeted 2,000 attendees in the grand ballroom at the JW Marriott Hill Country Resort with the opening words of Pope Francis at the welcoming ceremony for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, saying: “‘It is good for us to be here!’… It is good for all of us to be together around Jesus! It is he who welcomes us and is present in our midst here.”
“These are also my sentiments my brother bishops, priests, Knights and family members!” said the archbishop to an assembly that included 11 cardinals, dozens of archbishops and bishops, and more than 100 priests. “It is good for us to be here in the presence of the Lord, gathered from throughout the world.”
Archbishop Garcia-Siller described his recent pilgrimage to Brazil as being very festive and very reassuring — along with very exhausting — a comment which elicited laughter from the audience. He also said it was filled with lights and shadows, a theme he revisited throughout his homily.
“Gathering there with the Holy Father and over 3 million believers on Copacabana beach was a very moving, very inspiring event,” he said.
“Rio is a beautiful city, but there are shadows as well — the favelas where the very poor live — in a country where there have been many recent protests against the government because of the worsening, desperate situation of so many of its citizens, who are our sisters and brothers,” he continued. “There were days of sunshine and days of driving rain; days of lights and shadows — like every day of our lives.”
Saying “there is much light in our celebration this morning,” the San Antonio archbishop praised the more than 1.8 million Knights who, last year, contributed 70 million hours of service to charitable causes — including relief work after the devastating Oklahoma City tornado and the industrial plant explosion in West, Texas.
“Your principles of charity, unity, fraternity, and patriotism are vital for the church and our country and nations throughout the world,” said Archbishop Garcia-Siller. “Guiding principles are beacons in the darkness, giving us light to see clearly on our pilgrim way as disciples of the risen Lord.”
He described San Antonio by saying that “the church here is alive, our people are faith-filled and we are growing. These are stories of the light.”
However, he acknowledged that there are also many shadows. “They are not only found here in south Texas but also throughout the United States — and in many other parts of the world. One of the most difficult issues is the constant migration of peoples, often because of violence in their homelands, lack of employment, deep poverty and, indeed, great misery.”
Archbishop Garcia-Siller again quoted Pope Francis, who recently said on a visit to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa: “The church is mother and her motherly attention is expressed with special tenderness and closeness to those who are obliged to flee their own country and exist between rootlessness and integration.”
There, the pontiff spoke movingly about the “globalization of indifference” regarding immigrants, whose plight, he said, was like a “painful thorn in my heart.”
The Vatican reports that, in 2012, there were some 16 million officially recognized refugees in the world and 28.8 million internally displaced persons. In addition, an estimated 21 million people have been trafficked, including 4.5 million for sexual exploitation and 14.2 million for slave labor. Pope Francis, said Archbishop Garcia-Siller, emphasizes that God continues to ask us, “Where is your brother whose blood cries out to me?”
“In our nation, we are engaged in a very controversial debate about a painful and difficult issue: reforming our current immigration system that is clearly broken — putting 11 million or more of our sisters and brothers in jeopardy, fearful of being detained and deported, separated from their families. This is happening today on an unprecedented scale in our U.S. history,” according to Archbishop Garcia-Siller.
“This is not a liberal or a conservative issue, a Democratic or a Republican issue, it is an issue for every patriot, every citizen, and every man or woman of faith. It is a human issue, a moral issue. We cannot be indifferent to it.”
Especially in south Texas, he said, “we are very concerned about our undocumented brothers and sisters, especially those who have been separated from their families or are threatened daily with such separation. We need to bring the light of the gospel into the hidden places — the desolate places — the neighborhoods and the detention centers.”
Archbishop Garcia-Siller noted, “We will someday stand before God’s throne and will have to answer the Lord’s question: ‘Where is your brother? Your sister?'”
The archbishop closed by saying that during his World Youth Day pilgrimage, he heard the Holy Father call the young people of the church to action. He reminded them that, “The life of Jesus is a life for others. It is a life of service.”
He stressed that Pope Francis’ words still ring as a true challenge that shines with the light of the principles of the Knights of Columbus, “Go. Do not be afraid. Serve.”
“We stand firmly and generously in the light, but we must also confront the shadows, the darkness that surrounds us,” said Archbishop Garcia-Siller. “May Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of the Americas, help us to know her son better and become more faithful disciples of Jesus, who is the light of the world!”
McMorrough is editor of Today’s Catholic, newspaper of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.