Cardinal McCarrick raises the body of Christ during the Eucharistic liturgy prior to giving the talk on immigration.  Co-presiders were Fr. John O'Connor, OFM, provincial minister of Holy Name Province and Fr. Mark Reamer, OFM, pastor.

Theodore Cardinal McCarrick raises the body of Christ during the Eucharistic liturgy prior to giving the talk on immigration. Co-presiders (from left) were Fr. John O’Connor, OFM, provincial minister of Holy Name Province, and Fr. Mark Reamer, OFM, pastor.

The most basic reason the U.S. bishops have come out so strongly in favor of revising immigration policies is the belief in the dignity of the human person, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick said in a talk here Aug. 18.

“Anything that takes away from the dignity of the human person takes away from the Gospel,” said McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington, D.C. “The Gospel teaches us that we are all brothers and sisters of one human family and that we are all equal in the love of God,” he said.

The number one problem with the current immigration system is it “can destroy families,” he said. McCarrick said that during his priesthood he had seen the breaking up of families when law enforcement officers sometimes abruptly removed a father who had not been born in this country.

Living Jesus’ call to love our neighbor is “not easy,” McCarrick said. He acknowledged that undocumented immigrants may have made mistakes or broken the law. But he asked us to look at ourselves and how Jesus loves us despite “the stupid, dumb things we do.” He continued, “You know, if we were not like the Lord and never forgave anybody anything, we would be in terrible shape.”

Another major reason to reform the system, McCarrick said, is it divides society and creates two classes of people, with some people being denigrated and denied rights. “The breaking up of families, the denigrating of some people … That’s not what the Lord Jesus gave us,” McCarrick said.

The bishops have not endorsed any particular version of the immigration legislation under debate in Congress. Rather, they have outlined six broad themes that they would like to see in the new legislation, including a path to citizenship, promotion of family unity, and addressing root causes of migration.

“The bishops may not be totally agreed on the methodology,” McCarrick said, “but all of us, I think, without exception agree that somehow this has to be done.”

McCarrick emphasized theology and faith rather than politics in his talk. He spoke movingly of an experience he had in April 2006, when he gave a speech at a massive immigration rally on the Mall in Washington, D.C. McCarrick said:

“There were half a million people out there with American flags. And they were all immigrants, and they were all in this country for many years, and they all wanted to be here legally.  And I remember looking at them and looking at their faces. They were old and young,  of every shade and complexion, of every age,  kids with babies in their arms and old people in wheelchairs. They were God’s people….

It was a November day, as I remember, so it was chilly, and I remember watching them as I spoke, and almost hearing the Lord say, “Help these people. Help these people.”

After the speech in Washington, McCarrick recalled speaking to a tough group of reporters, who questioned why he thought he could make a difference in the immigration reform debate. “I said, by the grace of God, we have to dream. We can’t stop dreaming. And those people can’t stop dreaming,” McCarrick said.

McCarrick had many opportunities to encounter immigrants from his time serving as vicar in Harlem and later during his tenure as archbishop of Newark, N.J., where many immigrants from all over the world live.  “Contact with those people there was for me an extraordinary gift,” he said, “because I could see a wonderful willingness to be part of this culture, to build it up. None of these people talked down  America.”

Although McCarrick continues to work behind the scenes with senators and congressmen to influence the immigration debate, the cardinal also emphasized the importance of prayer in bringing about change. Reform “happens because people are praying, like you,” McCarrick said. “It’s the only thing that changes people’s minds. I’m convinced that you can’t talk anybody into something or out of something. Only grace does that.”