Catholic bishop of Michigan wants compassion for illegal immigrant minors

Bishop Joseph Cistone of Saginaw along with leaders of several Christian denominations asking for understanding and generosity towards illegal immigrant minors entering the US. A town in his diocese has seen protests against them.

In addition to a joint statement issued with other faith leaders of the Saginaw, Michigan, region (Ed. note: see below), calling for the "compassionate treatment of young children migrating to the United States," Roman Catholic Bishop Joseph R. Cistone of Saginaw published a "personal statement" about the ongoing surge of illegal immigrants from Central America. He asked that "people of faith and good will" should "put aside political difference and focus on the needs of the children." Here follows his statement:
 
“For so many of us, our hearts are torn as we watch news reports of unaccompanied children and young people migrating to the United States. Caught in the middle of strong emotions, hostile attitudes, and opposing political positions are vulnerable children who have survived a dangerous journey. The migration of these children through Central America and Mexico often leads to severe trauma and exploitation causing violence, mistreatment, family separation, and, in some circumstances, death.
 
“For me personally, it calls to mind my recent visit to El Salvador this past February. On behalf of Catholic Relief Services, as a member of the Board of Directors, I had the opportunity, together with other bishops and lay people, to visit San Salvador and its outlining regions. I witnessed firsthand the disturbing circumstances of children, some as young as five and six years old, seeking refuge in street gangs in order to escape the dysfunctional situation and even violence within their own homes. The gangs provide food, shelter and protection. However, the children pay a terrible price for membership in these gangs, finding themselves involved in a world of drugs and crime, creating their own level of fear and violence against others.
 
“Catholic Relief Services provides opportunities for those children – courageous enough to escape the gangs – to be educated, find employment, and transform their lives. In the spring 2014 edition of FAITH Saginaw Magazine, I recount the story of one young man, Manuel, whom I was privileged to meet and come to know. I am sure that, among the thousands of unaccompanied children migrating to America, there are many among them who share Manuel’s story.
 
“There is now indication that some of these children may be transferred to an institution in Vassar where, for an estimated 2-4 weeks, they will be given shelter, food and education while the Department for Health and Human Services addresses their future."
 
An interfaith rally will be held on July 31 in Vassar, Michigan, a small rural town approximately 100 miles north of Detroit, which has recently witnessed protests against the planned placement of illegal immigrant minors at a nearby facility operated by Wolverine Human Services. At a July 7 protest, and a subsequent July 9 townhall meeting on the controversy, members of Catholic and other Christian clergy were on hand. In some cases, members of the clergy found themselves in opposition to residents opposed to illegal immigration and the placement of the youngsters in Vassar. St Frances X. Cabrini Catholic parish is located in Vassar and is associated with the Diocese of Saginaw. Rev. Richard E. Jozwiak is listed as "sacramental minister" while Sister Ellen C. Rinke is listed as "pastoral administrator." Rinke is a signatory of the interfaith statement referenced by Bishop Cistone. (see below).
 
On the diocesan website, Bishop Cistone expressed satisfaction over the response of a number of leaders of the faith community of the Saginaw area to the current "humanitarian crisis." He declared, "We can understand the levels of frustration on the part of people regarding the inability of the government to establish a comprehensive immigration policy. While people of good will may hold differing opinions about the causes of this crisis and the legislative means to appropriately address the question of immigration, as Christians, we must be concerned for the safety and well-being of the vulnerable children involved. And so, I call upon all people of faith and good will to focus on the needs of these children who, in their innocence, come to us seeking safety.”
 
He continued, “The recent influx of undocumented children through Central America and Mexico into the United States is, indeed, a humanitarian crisis. As faith leaders, we are deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of the children involved. We urge lawmakers to protect these vulnerable children from further danger and exploitation and to work expeditiously for comprehensive immigration reform."
 
“As one human family, we are called to act with compassion and good will. We are aware of the frustration that exists, which has led to anger and, in some cases, threats of violence. Nevertheless, our response cannot be shaped by violence or political and social divide. Rather, in solidarity, we must focus on the needs of these children who, in their innocence, come to us seeking safety.”
 
Below is a list of signatories, as posted by the Diocese of Saginaw on its website:
 
Most Rev. Joseph R. Cistone
Catholic Diocese of Saginaw
Bishop
 
The Rev. Douglas S. Abel
First Presbyterian Church, Vassar
Pastor
 
The Rev. Catherine Christman
Vassar First United Methodist Church
Pastor
 
Hurley J. Coleman, Jr., D.D.
World Outreach Campus Church, Saginaw
Senior Pastor
 
Rev. Robert J. DeLand
St. Agnes Catholic Church, Freeland
Pastor
 
The Rev. Dr. Todd Farley
First Congregational Church of Saginaw
United Church of Christ
 
The Rev. Darwin Highlen
Holiness Missionary Church, Vassar
Pastor
 
The Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley
Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan 
Bishop
 
Pastor Wally Reames
LifeLine Victory Center, Vassar
 
Sister Ellen C. Rinke, IHM
St. Frances X. Cabrini Catholic Church, Vassar
Pastoral Administrator
 
The Rev. Craig Alan Satterlee, Ph.D.
North West Lower Michigan Synod ELCA
Bishop
 
Paul Werner
North West Lower Michigan Synod ELCA
Lay Minister, Vassar
 


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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