The following editorial appeared in the July 2 issue of The Catholic Virginian, publication of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. It was written by Richmond Bishop Barry C. Knestout, publisher.

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Bishop Barry C. Knestout

One of my roles as your bishop is teacher. This role is critical to the life of our faith community as we continue to learn what our church teaches, to grow in the understanding of those teachings and the beliefs expressed in them and to practice them — that is, to give witness to the Gospel — in our daily lives.

In this time of what can best be described as one of “civic disruption,” it is important for Catholics to know and apply the principles of Catholic social teaching which have been formed by the writing of popes, councils and the U.S. bishops. (The list of those principles can be found here.)

It is important to note that these principles are not political statements. Some individuals and groups might misuse them in order to advocate a particular position or promote a particular cause, but for us, as Catholics, these principles are an extension of the Gospel Jesus instructed us to live — especially Mt 25:31-46, which instructs us how to treat the most vulnerable.

The foundation of the principles of Catholic social teaching is this: All human life is sacred and the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society. Every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency. Those are not negotiable; there is no “Yes, but …” attached to them.

Catholic social teaching speaks of solidarity, of our being one human family even when there are racial, ethnic, national, economic and ideological differences among us. Put another way: Love our neighbor.

One of the beauties of Catholic social teaching is what popes over the last 127 years have contributed to this treasure. Recently, Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation “Rejoice and Be Glad,” in which he writes about holiness and notes concerns about “ideologies striking at the heart of the Gospel.”

He takes issue with those who “suspect the social engagement of others” as well as those who focus upon one particular ethical issue or cause at the exclusion of other issues and causes. The pope writes:

“Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development.

“Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.

“We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice in a world where some revel, spend with abandon and live only for the latest consumer goods, even as others look on from afar, living their entire lives in abject poverty.”

When it comes to migrants, Pope Francis says for Christians “the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him (cf. Mt 25:35)?”

By drawing upon Scripture and the wealth of Catholic social teaching, Pope Francis, when we take those paragraphs as a whole, provides the Catholic response to immigration. It is not a political response; it is the moral, pastoral response that all Catholics are to embrace.

In this time of “civic disruption,” it must be our only response.

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