Migrants and Refugees in Pope Francis’s Transformative Vision of Church and Society

Allan Figueroa Deck, SJ
Distinguished Scholar in Pastoral Theology and Latino Studies
Professor of Theological Studies
Loyola Marymount University
November 28, 2016 | San Diego, CA

Migrants and Refugees in Pope Francis’s Transformative Vision of Church and Society

The Father Lydio F. Tomasi, C.S. Annual Lecture on International Migration was established in 2014 by the CMS board of trustees through a generous contribution from The Rotondaro Family Fund. The lecture is delivered at a CMS-hosted event each year by a leading scholar. The lecture covers a migration-related topic of pressing concern to faith communities. Professor Allan Figueroa Deck, SJ, Distinguished Scholar in Pastoral Theology and Latino Studies and Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University, delivered this year’s lecture in San Diego, California on November 28, 2016 at the fourth national gathering of the Catholic Immigrant Integration Initiative.


For more than 40 years, justice for migrants and refugees has been a fundamental concern of my work as a pastoral theologian. As you can imagine, the urgency of this concern for me has only grown over those years. As the first generation son of a Mexican immigrant mother and a German- and Mexican-American father, my interests often turned toward the situation on our southern border — the multiple struggles of migrant workers and their families, of women and unaccompanied children, and on the vulnerability of so-called “aliens.” I came to know and love them as wonderful people, human beings, and who became my friends and often ministered more to me than I did to them. My life as teacher, researcher, writer, and priest has focused on the presence and fuller participation of these people, Latino and other immigrants in Church and society. In researching for one of my first publications 40 years ago — an article on Christian perspectives on illegal immigration — I discovered the remarkable biblical, patristic, and magisterial richness of the theme of migration in the Catholic tradition.[1]

In the intervening years, I have seen that relatively unknown legacy of Catholic social teaching flourish as never before in the context of the unprecedented movement of people in our time. In particular I was taken by the breadth and depth of the most recent flowering of that reflection over the past 70 years which began with Pope Pius XII and was nurtured by every subsequent pope.[2] And, of course, Pope Francis’s dramatic gestures and poignant pleas for the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees have given these issues the highest priority ever for the Church worldwide.

The 2016 presidential campaign and the announced anti-immigrant attitudes and measures which Mr. Trump champions have very understandably heightened concerns and fears about the current status and plight of migrants and refugees not only in the United States but across the globe. We know that populist political movements are gaining strength in the face of the terrorism carried out by some Islamic and other extremists. These movements sometimes strive to normalize bigotry, xenophobia, and exclusion, toxic attitudes that work against the common good. This is the sad truth that Mr. Trump’s election signifies for me. In the face of this, we may be tempted to discouragement. Notwithstanding the concerns that understandably grip us, I invite everyone to step back, take a deep breath, and put ourselves in a much broader context. I believe there are reasons, despite recent events, to be thankful and maybe even hopeful, at least for the long term.

In my words today, then, I wish to speak as a pastoral theologian attempting to see the reality of migrations from within the context of the Church’s tradition of reflection and action. In particular, I want to focus on how things have matured and on Pope Francis’s contributions to this maturation within the context of the energetic reform of the Church – the “revolution of mercy,” as some call it – which  he is leading in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. His contributions, I would argue, are particularly notable in two ways. First, for the way in which his approach stresses moving from doctrine through compassion to action – what some refer to as  “from orthodoxy through orthopathy to orthopraxis” – and away from mere theory and doctrine to loving, affective engagement with the “other,” the outsider, the excluded. Second, Pope Francis’s papacy stands out for the way in which his reform of the Church at every level seeks to integrate faith with life through prayer and spiritual growth. Indeed, Francis’s method is deeply spiritual and holistic because it leads us to take a long hard look at today’s realities not only analytically with the tools of knowledge and social science, but also affectively through the lens of mercy and with love, with a loving look at the real.[3]


Catholic Thought on Migration Coming of Age

Forty years ago there was very little familiarity with the breadth and depth of reflection on migration in the Catholic tradition. The special place occupied by migration in the Hebrew Scriptures, while undeniable, remained rather obscure. Much more, however, has now been written about the significance of migrations in the foundational sources of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – the Abrahamic religions.[4] The God that Abraham and his descendants came to know made himself manifest precisely in the context of migrations. Israel’s and Christianity’s very identity was shaped in the Exodus experience and continually renewed through the prophets. Our Muslim brothers and sisters, moreover, celebrate the Prophet Mohammed’s flight from persecution from Mecca to Medina, the hejira, as the starting point of the Muslim era. And can Christians ever forget that Jesus Christ himself was a refugee from the despotic terror of King Herod; or, more astonishingly, that the Trinitarian God of Christians became, as it were, a “displaced person” through the Incarnation, the central mystery of Christian faith? This fascinating context for reflection on migration’s deeper meaning for Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and for all humanity, is finally becoming the source of an intercultural theology of migration. This is one of the more outstanding examples of the fruitfulness of the encounter going on in our time between powerful historical trends like globalization, interdependence, and interculturality on the one hand, with world religions, especially the Abrahamic religions, on the other.[5] In the intervening years since my first efforts to study migration, knowledge and support for care and justice for immigrants and refugees have made tangible progress in Catholic social teaching. Indeed, one might argue that justice for migrants holds a place of high priority today in Catholic thought and action along with ecological concerns.

Much, of course, still remains to be done to form Catholics in the dignity and rights of immigrants and refugees — for the world faced with the crises of refugees and migrants seems to be moving backward toward ancient patterns of bigotry, xenophobia, nationalism, and ethnocentrism. Yet there is little question that authoritative teaching from the popes themselves, as well as from local conferences of bishops, has and continues to boldly raise other alternatives. This biblical and prophetic teaching has borne fruit. For example, every year for decades now a significant percentage of refugees coming to the United States are resettled under Catholic auspices. The bishops have invested time and resources in the promotion of comprehensive immigration reform through lobbying on behalf of immigrants in Washington, DC, through major programs such as the Justice for Immigrants Initiative, and through numerous appearances to give testimony in the halls of Congress, a longstanding labor of love developed and executed by the Committee on Migration and other departments of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).[6] The enthusiastic reception and defense of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students, the so-called DREAMers, in Catholic universities throughout the nation is another excellent example of a real, practical concern towards immigrants.

Even more impressive are the outcomes of the remarkable struggle of immigrants, especially the undocumented themselves, to find a voice of their own in the public square despite the terrible risks. I am referring, for example, to the outstanding core of DACA students, children who came at a very early age to this country without authorization. They have been given a chance to study in colleges and universities all over the country and have distinguished themselves as students, leaders in their communities and institutions, and even on a national scale through their articulate, moving testimonies before peers and in the chambers of Congress, the media, and the public square. Thousands of documented and undocumented immigrants have risen to significant levels of service and leadership in churches, schools, and community organizations all over the country despite the precariousness of their situation. Nor can any thoughtful person deny the bravery and loyalty of immigrants, some initially undocumented, who have enlisted in the armed forces of the United States and served with distinction,  and even given their lives to defend their new homeland.

As a pastoral theologian, I am heartened to discover that studies of migrations have multiplied and shed light on many positive contributions of migrants to the material well-being of nations and to the growth, renewal, and transformation of world religions. In a chapter in Peter Phan and Elaine Padilla’s collection of monographs on Christianities in the world, I analyze the contributions that migrations from Latin America have made to religion in the United States and specifically to Catholicism. Is there any secret about the fact that immigrants are one of the principle sources of renewed life in Catholic parishes, schools and organizations all over the United States? Of course, this is also true for many other churches in the United States as well. Following the lead of Timothy Matovina and other students of the Latino presence in the United States, I highlight in my classes and writing the significant contributions of Latinos to the renewal of the Church, to its life of prayer and worship, to its spirituality, to its sense of solidarity with others, and to its youthfulness, prosperity, and to its entire vitality.[7]

In these years, increased attention on human dignity and immigrants’ rights has unquestionably made an impact on Catholic morality and on social and theological ethics. This has given Catholic morality and social thought greater maturity and relevance with regard to what is happening in our world. The Roman magisterium, diocesan bishops, as well as Catholic theological and social ethicists and pastoralists have produced a significant, ever-growing body of reflection that spotlights concern for issues of human mobility.[8] In these intervening years, the evolution of Catholic social teaching in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council has meant that a social morality stressing what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls structural sin, the structural causes of injustice and the need for human solidarity across borders, has arisen in contradistinction to an individualistic morality fixated on personal sin.[9] That individualistic emphasis neglects the larger socioeconomic, cultural, and political sources of injustice. The vast literature and growing conversation about migrants and refugees as well as on inequality and other related issues are creating, in my view, an expanded, more authentic, and convincing social morality suitable for resolving some of the vexing problems we face.

The focus on human dignity and immigrants’ rights has also contributed to the achievement of a new and necessary balance that Pope Francis is valiantly fighting for, one that saves Catholic morality from becoming obsessed with one evil like abortion while neglecting many others. In an interview in America Magazine, he says that “the church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude doctrines to be imposed insistently…We have to find a new balance.”[10] That balance is not meant to diminish the gravity of the horrendous practice of induced abortions but rather to remove the visors, make the Catholic vision of morality more inclusive, credible, and responsive to conditions on the ground.


I should also mention here that the focus on migration calls the Church back to its primordial concern which is care for the poor as stated by St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians (Gal. 2:10). The unprecedented scale of human mobility in our times has powerfully enhanced the Church’s “mindfulness of the poor.” The capstone of this historic retrieval of a constitutive dimension of the Church is found in St. John Paul II’s vigorous espousal of the option for the poor as a fundamental interpretative stance of and for the Church.[11] That option has paved the way for Pope Francis’s persistent call to go to the peripheries, the affirmation of care for “disposable people,” notably among them migrants and refugees. Such “mindfulness of the poor” is a permanent feature of the Church’s very essence.[12] This mindfulness is not only a matter of rhetoric. It is a priority taking concrete form over the past three or four decades by means of major Catholic agencies all over the world — for example, Caritas International, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), and Catholic Charities. This mindfulness of the poor as migrant and refugee is exemplified day after day in the mission of the Scalabrini International Migration Network and other missionary initiatives as well as countless dioceses involved in providing shelter for refugees and migrants. The number and quality of these services have significantly grown in recent years as have centers for promoting the human and civil rights of migrants and refugees expanded and professionalized. In this regard the work of the Kino Border Initiative comes to mind, a collaborative effort of US and Mexican Jesuits, local dioceses, and Mexican women religious in serving the daily needs of migrants along the US-Mexico border in Arizona. The Kino Border Initiative also engages in advocacy and contributes to research on a wide range of issues affecting migration today in collaboration with researchers and universities who regularly visit this operation. Of course, in the area of research, publications, and advocacy, we have the example of the Center for Migration Studies in New York, whose contributions to this field have in my view been unequalled over the decades, more relevant than ever, and grown in recognition and effectiveness as this gathering witnesses to in eloquent ways. I am also sure that there are other agencies which I could and should mention and that I am simply unaware of. The point is that in my lifetime under Catholic auspices, a vast and impressive infrastructure of charity, service, advocacy, and empowerment focused on migration has come about in reality through the collaborative efforts of so many both in the hierarchy of the Church, and among the religious congregations, but also among professionals in many disciplines and especially among growing numbers of the faithful, the People of God themselves.


We can note in connection with these developments the possibility that the pro-life movement may be shifting, if at times slowly and even reluctantly, in the direction of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s inclusive seamless garment paradigm. The issue of justice for immigrants has helped bring this about. Archbishop José Gómez made the straightforward connection between immigration reform and the pro-life agenda speaking about the appropriateness of a pro-life foundation for the greater social justice agenda. He repeatedly asserted migration as a matter of social justice, morality, and a pro-life issue that must be included in the pro-life agenda: “In the face of suffering and human need in the world, we cannot compartmentalize our compassion or draw lines between those we will care about and those we will not.”[13] Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, moreover, stresses the need for a “consistent ethic of life” that requires Catholics and others to consider some restrictive immigration policies as comparable in evil to abortions. Speaking of public policy toward refugees he says: “I consider supporting the sending of an adult or child back to a place where he or she is marked for death, where there is lawlessness and societal collapse, to be formal cooperation with an intrinsic evil. Not unlike driving someone to an abortion clinic.”[14]

The importance of the issue of care for migrants and refugees in today’s world is due to several factors in my view. The movement of people within and across borders illustrates the fact that the human family is intimately connected or interdependent. There are indisputable links between aspects of globalization and the rampant rise of inequality in the world together with ethnocentrism, racism, militarism, and extreme nationalism. These elements combine to create nothing less than a “perfect storm” of insecurity and human misery which goes a long way in explaining the movement and displacement of people in our times.[15] Pastoral theologians like me, then, must ask ourselves how we may respond to the negative climate – to what many perceive as a growing backlash in many parts of the world including the United States to human mobility, one of the great but vexing “signs of our times.”

Here I want to transition to the second part of my remarks in which I try to place my reflections in the wider context of Pope Francis’s transformative vision in order to discover what may be a qualitative leap in integration of what our faith as Christians affirms and how that faith becomes life, thus providing powerful motivation for the pursuit of mercy and justice for immigrants.

Integrating Faith and Life in Pope Francis’s Focus on Migrants

Argentine theologian and protégé of Pope Francis Carlos María Galli has made the point that Pope Francis’s approach to his ministry as chief shepherd of the Church and world leader can be understood as an effort to integrate a truly pastoral vision and spirituality with Church teaching. This is a strategy that seeks to retrieve “the freshness of the gospel.”[16] This Pope was elected at least in part because there was a mounting realization among some of the Cardinal electors of how the Church had moved away from the reform agenda of the Second Vatican Council — becoming stale, self-referential, even narcissistic. The Church was being perceived as sliding back into a defensiveness and lack of comfort with true engagement with the world, its hope and aspirations. Neither the clear assertion of sound doctrine and new catechisms, nor new forays into apologetics, nor knowledge of itself – none of this is enough for a missionary Church whose “name for God is mercy.”[17] There is no substitute for dialogue and engagement. Hence the unhelpful metaphor of “culture wars” invoked by some of our ecclesial leaders in the decades after Vatican II gives way to “a culture of encounter” under Pope Francis inspiration. At the heart of this turn toward dialogue and engagement with others, even with those who disagree or even oppose Catholic teaching, is a deep sense of compassion, mercy, and pastoral care. At the core of this shift to “pastorality,” to coin a new English word that captures Papa Bergoglio’s approach, is the way and the method of Jesus Christ himself in the Gospel. In asserting this principle of pastorality, Pope Francis is following the surest and most authentic form of ecclesial renewal, one that seeks energy and inspiration not in twentieth century restorationism nor nineteenth century neo-scholasticism, nor Renaissance baroque pageantry, much less medieval or Greek philosophies, or for that matter, the Latin Mass as the “wave of the future!” Following in the footsteps of other moments of ecclesial reform like that of St. Francis of Assisi or of Martin Luther, this reform seeks to ground itself on nothing less than the most legitimate of all sources of renewal, namely, on the Gospel itself. Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga reminded us of this in an October 2013 conference in Dallas: “There is no possible reform of the Church without a return to Jesus…With the New Evangelization we restart from the beginning. We once more become the Church as proclaimer, servant, and Samaritan.”[18] This mindset and attitude foster a renewed focus on reality rather than ideas and ideologies of either left or right. The pastor and a pastoral Church is one that listens first and talks second. It is also one that dialogues with science and with history in the effort to assess people’s situations journeying with them on the way. Such a pastoral Church becomes “a field hospital in time of war” with shepherds and pastoral agents who “smell of the sheep.”


Now there is an unmistakable affinity between this Samaritanism, this Gospel-centered pastoral orientation that is the bedrock of Church reform, and the growing concern for migrants and refugees that has brought us here today. Anyone opening their eyes and keeping their ears “down to the ground” would have to acknowledge human mobility as a major “sign of the times” for the Church and the world. This sign elicits in the faithful and hopefully also in nations and governments a response of mercy that is rooted in faith as well as in reason. Consequently we have seen how Pope Francis has sought to provide the theological grounding for his reforms in nothing less than the kerygma, the core proclamation of God’s unconditional love for each and every human being without exception. The Pope is bringing us back to a simple but profound Gospel imperative — namely, that love of God and love of neighbor go together, period. Of course, this message has always been too radical for many if not most of us. The message of the Beatitudes will always be the surest test of the authenticity of our Christianity. In Centessimus Annus, St. John Paul II insists that justice flows from faith when he said, “[M]an’s true identity is only fully revealed to him through faith, and it is precisely from faith that the Church’s social teaching begins. While drawing from all the contributions made by the sciences and philosophy, her social teaching is aimed at helping man on the path of salvation.”[19]


This pastorality does not bracket matters of faith, but rather makes faith for Christians the foundation of engagement with others, and of our response to human suffering and injustice. Pope Francis, like the Second Vatican Council and all his recent predecessors, has a high regard for social ethics and for social analysis. His approach, however, gives pride of place to a faith that does justice, not to an ideology that does it. In other words, it’s not only about a rationality that finds a solution to the challenges of migration in our time but also, and for us Christians mainly, a vision of God’s unconditional love: Caritas Christi urget nos. The love of Christ urges us on (2 Cor. 5:14). This is not to say that rigorous analyses of the causes and remedies to the horrendous challenges facing the human family such as the forced migrations we are experiencing today are not necessary and helpful. Rather, it is to point out that for Christians the pursuit of social justice is more than an ethical demand or an exercise in practical reasoning. For us, it is about taking on the form of Christ himself “who even though he was God did not deem equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself (Phil. 2:7).” The Greek word for emptying in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is kenosis. This kenotic, other-centered response to human need we find in Christ is a response in real time and history, not just a nice idea. Our response must be real not theoretical. It must be performative, taking the shape of personal presence, encounter, dialogue, and action.

Theologian Sam Rocha highlights Pope Francis’s Gospel realism — his movement away from isms and ideologies, and to his embrace of gestures, actions, and attitudes that illustrate and motivate people toward real responses, to action more than words. Rocha maintains that this is understandable in the context of Papa Bergoglio’s Latin America which responded in a very creative way to the Second Vatican Council’s plea that the Church go out from itself in order to engage the world as it is rather than hunker down in the comfort and security of its identity.[20] Since the time of the early General Councils of the Latin American Bishops in Medellín in 1968 to Aparecida in 2007, Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s Latin American Church was responding to real situations on the ground, notably to extreme socioeconomic and political inequalities, violence, drug wars, ecological degradation, and migrations within and across many borders. It did not have the luxury of retreating into the past; it had to confront realities and human need in real time and in real ways.

People have asked about the fact that Jorge Mario Bergoglio was not a big fan of a certain kind of liberation theology. My research and conversations with those who know him have led me to think that his caution with regard to certain forms of liberation theology had to do with the ways that reductionist, Marxist, or other ways of thinking sometimes locked Christian activists into something less than the faith-based vision of nitty-gritty care for the marginal that puts love for each person without exception before revolutionary strategies and elitist ways of thinking. This Pope is no friend of armchair liberals. Indeed, we have seen this over and over again in Pope Francis’s dramatic gestures that keep our eyes on what’s happening on the ground: his early visit to the prison outside Rome where he washed the feet of Muslim immigrant women, his care for the homeless in Rome, his visit to the island of Lampedusa, his decision to live more simply in the little hotel rather than the papal palace, his coming back from his visit to Istanbul on the airplane with a Syrian refugee family who was re-settled in the Vatican. The word that captures the pastoral method of Pope Francis is incarnation. His is a deeply incarnated, engaged, practical regard for his neighbor, especially those in need.[21]

Consequently, it is not difficult to grasp why the care of migrants and refugees has been at the top of his many concerns. Thus, by example, he is adding something to our conversation about migration today. He adds the conviction that today’s challenges require more than addressing the structural causes of so much suffering, the social, economic, and political sources of the poverty, violence, and insecurity in our world. Faith makes a difference. The transformation required by today’s mounting polycentrism, pluralism, globalization and diversity which engender a negative pushback by so many must go deeper than what reason tells us. A transformation flowing from faith must occur in the human heart, in our souls. It must be spiritual. The religious word for this change is conversion — change of heart motivated by something more than sound knowledge of the causes of these problems.


This is why, in addition to advocacy on behalf of the human dignity and rights of migrants and refugees, there must also be testimony and a credible witness of life on the part of Christians and others regarding styles and ways of life that model justice for all, solidarity and simplicity appropriate to a world that is more and more interdependent. Yes, to use the cliché, we must “walk the walk.” In such a world, of course, narrow interpretations of the purpose of national sovereignty must give way to the demands of human dignity for all, especially the most marginal. Are not we as a community of faith best positioned to give this witness of openness to the other? This is what the Church must be and become if it is to make a distinctive contribution to the struggle for global transformation required by the movement of peoples today. This transformation of mind and heart is what Pope Francis seeks to model for us.

Pope Francis’s radical reform agenda, consequently, stresses spirituality. By spirituality I mean the life of prayer and attentiveness to oneself, to others, and to God that leads to integration of faith with life. A spiritual person lives in the Spirit and makes decisions and discerns in ways that are coherent and consistent with the values of the Gospel. At the heart of spirituality according to St. Ignatius Loyola is a radical openness to the Other who is God but also to the “other” who is our neighbor. In paragraph number 22 of the Spiritual Exercise, St. Ignatius says that openness to the proposition of the other is one of the essential requirements of growing spiritually. Another way to put this is to speak of a radical hospitality rather than hostility in our relationship with others. To that terrible question the lawyer asked of Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37). Indeed, Pope Francis has stressed the concept of Samaritanism (samaritanidad) as a fundamental quality of the Church of all time, especially today when we are more aware than ever of the dimensions of human suffering and need in the world. To that awareness and willingness to be open to others must be added an ever-deepening compassion for others that draws us closer to Jesus in the way of the Cross. This path of compassion for others leads to the Resurrection for Christ and for those who follow him. In his bold actions, Pope Francis has highlighted the plight of migrants and refugees and a responsive care for them as one of the main areas of concern for Christians and all people of goodwill in our times.

In Spanish we use the word mística to refer to the underlying spirituality that informs and transforms all our relationships including those with the poor. A deep and growing relationship with God in prayer and a firm sense of God’s unconditional love for each one of us makes it possible for us to respond generously to others. More important than ideas and knowledge is a healthy self-love rooted in the experience of God’s mercy that makes people magnanimous. Is not this the power of agape or self-sacrificial love that makes marriages and families work? Is not this love at the heart of the sacrifices that parents make for their children, brothers and sisters, and friends for each other? The mística required of our times in the face of the growing reality of migration demands of us a motivation much greater than the self-interest of today’s individualist morality. This is the spirituality of human solidarity that Pope Francis seeks to exemplify in his dramatic gestures and actions.

In every one of Pope Francis’s major documents consideration is given to the spiritual integration of what is being proposed. This is much different from intellectual assent and in great Ignatian fashion penetrates deeply into our affections through the faculties of memory, imagination, and will. In Evangelii Gaudium, it has to do with making the joy of the Gospel really radiate throughout our lives. In Laudato Si, it is the sense of relationality, the interconnectedness of all things and people permeating our lives and awareness. In Amoris Laetitia, it is a straightforward acceptance of God’s working in our lives by means of invitation and our freedom to respond rather than by imposition. The spiritual life is about deepening one’s relationship with God and others through searching one’s own conscience and discernment. This requires study, consultation, prayer, and trust in the Spirit’s presence in one’s life rather than rigid following of rules and legalities. It means seeking for communion among people by inclusion not exclusion. The transformation that migration and refugees are demanding of the human family today has everything to do with expanding our human sense of relationship and inclusivity. The ontological individualism and atomism of today’s world driven by consumerism, self-interest, and even greed has to give way to concern for others, solidarity, and an ever-deepening sense of the social purpose of wealth. Only in this way will God’s creatures adequately respond to the challenges of migration today by cooperating in the pursuit of the common good as the supreme aspiration of life on earth.


I want to end with a quote from Mark K. Shriver writing recently in The New York Times about the deeper meaning of Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy. I think Shriver captures what is most true about Pope Francis’s vision of reform and its relevance to the struggle for justice for migrants and refugees. He observed that:

I had considered mercy from an intellectual perspective and believed the Pope was essentially calling me to be nicer to people. But he is calling us to live mercy on a deeply personal basis that changes the very essence of who we are…When he says life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort…and goes on to ask us to ‘leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others’…He is telling us to get out of our comfort zones. He is saying to me, a supposedly progressive Catholic who works on behalf of poor kids and families: Don’t be isolated and content; enter the chaos and the pain and the joy of others’ lives. Then you will be truly merciful and alive…Francis comforts me, but like a great teacher, he also challenges me to my very core.[22]

I suspect that many of us here deeply invested as we are in the struggle for justice for immigrants and refugees know a little something like Pope Francis about “the chaos and the pain and the joy of others’ lives.”

[1] Allan Figueroa Deck, “A Christian Perspective on the Reality of Illegal Immigration,” Social Thought (Fall, 1978): 39-52.

[2] See, for example, Pope Pius XII, “Acta Apostolicae Sedis,” Exul Familia 44, September 30, 1952; Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, April 11, 1963, no. 25; Paul VI, Instruction on the Pastoral of Migrants, Aug. 15, 1969; Pope John Paul II, Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi, May 14, 2004; and Pope Benedict XVI issued yearly Papal Messages on Migrants and Refugees from 2005-2012.

[3]Joan Carrera et. al., New Frontiers, the Same Commitment: Current Challenges in the Faith-Justice Dialogue (Barcelona: Cristianisme I Justicia,2016).

[4] Elaine Padilla and Peter C. Phan, eds., Theology of Migrations in the Abrahamic Religions( London: Pelgrave/Macmillan, 2014).

[5] Daniel C. Groody and Gioacchino Campese, A Promised Land, A Perilous Journey: Theological Perspectives on Migration (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008).

[6] See United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Washington DC: Committee on Migration, Justice for Immigrants (JFI),

[7] Timothy Matovina, Latino Catholicism, Transformation in America’s Largest Church (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012). And see Timothy Matovina, “Latino Contributions to Vatican II Renewal,” Origins 42, no. 29, (December 20, 2012): 465-71; also Allan Figueroa Deck, “Latino Migrations and the Transformation of Religion in the United States: Framing the Question” in Christianities in Migration: The Global Perspective, eds. Peter C. Phan and Elaine Padilla, (London: Pelgrave Macmillan, 2016), 263-80.

[8] See, for example, David Hollenbach, SJ, “Borders and Duties to the Displaced: Ethical Perspectives on the Refugee Protection System,” Journal of Migration and Human Security 4, no. 3 (2016): 148-165; and Kristin E. Heyer, Kinship Across Borders: A Christian Ethic of Immigration (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2012).

[9] Catechism of the Catholic Church (Washington, DC: USCCB—Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997) nos. 387 and 1869.

[10] Pope Francis, “A Big Heart Open to God,” an interview with Antonio Spadaro, America, September 30, 2013.

Also, on misapplying the category of intrinsic evil and narrowing the moral compass in deciding how to vote see Bishop Robert W. McElroy, “The Greatness of a Nation,” America, February 15, 2016,

[11] St. John Paul II, Centessimus Annus, (Rome: Librearia Editrice Vaticana, 1991), [11].

[12] See Gaetano Parolin, “Chiesa e Mobilita Umana,” in Migrazioni:Dizionario Socio-Pastorale, ed. Graziano Battistella (Milan: Edizioni San Paolo, 2010), 133.

[13] Daniel Ibáñez quotes Archbishop José H. Gómez at a conference at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, May 2, 2015.

[14] Charles C. Camosy quotes Bishop Daniel Flores in “Immigration has to be part of a ‘Consistent Ethic of Life,’” Crux: Taking the Catholic Pulse, October 24, 2016. See also Bishop Robert W. McElroy, “The Greatness of a Nation: Reclaiming our National Politics for the Protection of the Human Person,” America, February 15, 2016,

[15] Elaine Padilla, “The End of Christianity,” in Christianities in Migration: the Global Perspective, eds., Peter C. Phan and Elaine Padilla(London: Pelgrave Macmillan, 2016). 301-304. Padilla provides a poignant, almost poetic synthesis of the various factors that merge to create the inhuman realities that underlie much of the phenomenon of migration today.

[16] Pope Francis, “Spirit-Filled Evangelizers,” in Evangelii Gaudium (Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013), 259-288. See also Carlos María Galli, “En la Iglesia Sopla un Viento del Sur,” Teología 108 (2012): 101-172.

[17] Pope Francis, The Name of God Is Mercy, A Conversation with Andrea Tornielli (New York: Random House, 2016).

[18] Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, “The Importance of the New Evangelization,” University of Dallas, Irving Conference Center, October 25, 2013.

[19] St. John Paul II, Centessimus Annus (Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1991), [54].

[20] Sam Rocha, “Francis’s Radical Realism: Performance vs Ideology,” Ethica Politica, March 11, 2014, Rocha here puts it this way: “The ontological simplicity of reality gives way to a ‘principle of reality,’ an incarnational order between word and flesh that favors the practice of evangelization.”

[21] Allan Figueroa Deck, SJ, Francis, Bishop of Rome: The Gospel for the Third Millennium, especially  Ch. 2, “Jesuit Roots” and Ch. 3 “The Latin American Ethos of Renewal” (New York: Paulist Press, 2016).

[22] Mark K. Shriver, “This Merciful Year,” New York Times, Nov. 24, 2016,

Author Names

Allan Figueroa Deck, SJ

Date of Publication November 28, 2016


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