October 2011 Evangelization Exchange – Fernández-Sardina

What Do Evangelizers and Immigrants Have In Common?

by Martha Fernández-Sardina


MarthaFernandezThis year, I spoke to hundreds of people across the nation on topics related to the Faith. Reaching Hispanic Catholics was the topic most sought after – along with talks on holiness. I delivered a dozen talks about or to Hispanics at parish, diocesan, and national events, and spoke about it on national radio (Morning Air, Relevant Radio – October 14) and on national TV (Franciscan University Presents, EWTN – October 2 and 6.) Parishes, dioceses, educational institutions, publishing houses, and ministry organizations are becoming increasingly interested in learning how to reach and welcome Hispanics, aware that a “stickier” topic must also be addressed: how Catholics should respond to the complexities involved in immigration.

When I speak about Latinos in the US, I do so aware that the Church’s solicitude and pastoral care for immigrant and itinerant peoples is here to stay, and that there is a clear link between evangelization and migration, between the new evangelization of culture and the movement of peoples across the globe. This connection was made at the annual Immigration Symposium of the Mexican American Catholic College (www.maccsa.org.) Bishop Daniel Flores from Brownsville, Texas delivered a thought-provoking opening keynote address packed with important points to ponder, pray about, and put into action. Bishop Flores offered pastoral responses amidst stories from the Rio Grande Valley just across the border with Mexico, where 11 and 12 year-old children must choose between religious education classes or joining a gang or the drug cartel. Often, these children are immigrants who have fled violence. Often, they are US-born citizens whose parents and grandparents had to flee for similar reasons or simply to make a living. Almost always, families are split up by this unwanted situation.

Bishop Flores stressed the need for a new evangelization that effectively reaches out to families, with an emphasis on the formation of conscience among children and youth; a new evangelization that reaches across the border and addresses the root causes of immigration, and the border drug trade, moral decline, violence, and criminal activity of too many (on both sides.) A clear and convincing proclamation of the Gospel capable of transforming man’s criteria of judgment and behavior is desperately needed there and everywhere!

Oct2011MigrantsFSPope Benedict XVI himself has linked evangelization and migration several times, as he continues to highlight the need for an increasingly effective implementation of the new evangelization in every sector of society. He did so in his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, On The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church, and he has done so again in the recently-released Message for the 2012 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, “Migration and the New Evangelization.” The Pope speaks plainly about the fact that those who seek asylum in another country due to “persecution, violence and situations that put their life at risk, stand in need of our understanding and welcome, of respect for their human dignity and rights, as well as awareness of their duties. Their suffering pleads with individual states and the international community to adopt attitudes of reciprocal acceptance, overcoming fears and avoiding forms of discrimination, and to make provisions for concrete solidarity also through appropriate structures for hospitality and resettlement programs.”(cf. “Migration and the New Evangelization”)

It is a matter of justice and charitythat we carefully study the “sticky” situation of immigration which is “fraught with extremely delicate questions about the security of nations and the welcome to be given to those seeking refuge or improved conditions of living, health and work.” (cf. “Verbum Domini”) In order to do so with level-headedness and equanimity, compassion and civility and come closer to the comprehensive and sensible immigration reform the US bishops are calling for – we must first “reawaken in each one of us the enthusiasm and courage that motivated the first Christian communities to be undaunted heralds of the Gospel’s newness.” (cf. “Migration and the New Evangelization”)

Oct11NorthAmericaFSThis worldwide migration has brought new opportunities for evangelization for both migrants and host nations: “Large numbers of people who know nothing of Christ, or who have an inadequate understanding of him, are settling in countries of Christian tradition. At the same time, persons from nations deeply marked by Christian faith are emigrating to countries where Christ needs to be proclaimed and a new evangelization is demanded. These situations offer new possibilities for the spread of God’s word… Taking into account the complexity of the phenomenon, a mobilization of all dioceses involved is essential, so that movements of migration will also be seen as an opportunity to discover new forms of presence and proclamation. It is also necessary that they ensure, to the extent possible, that these our brothers and sisters receive adequate welcome and attention, so that, touched by the Good News, they will be able to be heralds of God’s word and witnesses to the Risen Jesus, the hope of the world.”(cf. “Verbum Domini”) This spirit of welcome and cooperation between dioceses is reflected in various new evangelization initiatives, such as the annual Meeting of Texas-Mexico Border Bishops and the Mass celebrated across the border in Reynosa, Mexico on the Day of Migrants, as well as in various social and pastoral outreach projects between El Paso and Juarez, McAllen and Reynosa, and the cities of Nogales on each side of the Texas-Mexico border. (For more information, read the presentations made at the M.A.C.C. 2011 Immigration Symposium.)

The need is clear.
The Church worldwide is committed.
The desire to respond well in the U.S. is steadily growing.
Conversations are being held.
New resources and pastoral approaches are being developed.
Leaders continue to emerge.
And grace from on high is being offered to all who wish to love their neighbor as Christ has loved us.
Surely, “the Church is faced with the challenge of helping migrants keep their faith firm even when they are deprived of the cultural support that existed in their country of origin, and of identifying new pastoral approaches, as well as methods and expressions, for an ever vital reception of the Word of God.” (Migration and the New Evangelization)But what should not be forgotten is that in so doing, the host nations and its individual parishes and dioceses and national outreach programs enjoy the blessings that come from being renewed by the Gospel we live and share with others.


Let’s study the issues with a truly Catholic mind – sentire cum Ecclesia!

Let’s be welcoming!

Let’s be evangelizers!

Let’s be saints!

For details on my radio and TV shows, talks and workshops reaching Hispanic Catholics, as well as my 4-part TV series “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church”, visit my blog (https://iEvangelize.wordpress.com) and website (www.archsa.org/Evangelization), or email me (MFernandez-Sardina@archsa.org.)