His Eminence Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, paid his first visit to North Carolina this week, speaking on the subject of immigration reform at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill on February 2. Cardinal Mahony was invited by the College of Arts and Sciences, Institute for the Study of the Americas, Parr Center for Ethics in the philosophy department, Center for Global Initiatives, the political science and religious studies departments, and the Center for the Study of the American South.
In an address titled, “For Goodness Sake: Why America Needs Immigration Reform,” Cardinal Mahony explored the complex array of economic, legal and social issues involved in the ongoing immigration debate. A strong advocate for the need of comprehensive immigration reform, the Cardinal said, “My main appeal for reforming our current immigration laws is that it is simply the right thing to do morally. Millions of individuals and families are regularly exploited, demeaned and dehumanized,” Cardinal Mahony said, “as a direct result of our broken immigration system.”
Using verses from the Old and New Testaments, Cardinal Mahony illustrated what he termed “wise and urgent teachings to care for the stranger and alien.” Among the verses he cited:
“So Abram went down to Egypt to reside there as an alien, for the famine was severe in the land.” (Genesis 12:10)
“You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deut. 10:19)
“When an alien resides in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” (Matthew 25:35)
“As a Christian,” Cardinal Mahony stressed, “there are no prior commitments than can overrule, or trump, this biblical tradition of compassion for the stranger, the alien, and the worker.”
The Cardinal took issue with those who claim undocumented workers are hurting the U.S. economy, exploring the Greek root of the word economy, which is oikonomia. He explained the word literally means the arrangement of a household. “In early Christian history, Oikonomia referred to the way God’s household is ordered or administered,” Cardinal Mahony said. “The principal focus was not monetary.”
“In Catholic thought,” the Cardinal added, “the human person should not serve the economy, but the economy should serve the human person, so that each person and his or her family can live in dignity and without want and can move, if needed, to find the place of hope.”
Following his talk, Cardinal Mahony took questions from the audience.