Profile: Peter Rosazza
A Bishop’s Plea: Remember
“Zahor!” declared bishop Peter Rosazza, loud enough that everyone in marquand Chapel (and down the hallways too) could hear him.
Zahor – Hebrew for “remember.” Remember the immigrant is a human being, the bishop said. Remember the bible says embrace the foreigner. Remember to embrace the Christ in other people, including undocumented workers.
“Remember that the fruits and vegetables we enjoy are often planted and harvested by undocumented workers, who also get meat and poultry to our tables – and this is true of the bread and wine we use for the Eucharist,” said Rosazza, an auxiliary bishop in the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford, where he is also Vicar General for the Hispanic Apostolate.
He spoke as a panelist during the YDS-sponsored con- ference in may 2008 called “The Challenge of Immigration: framing a New American Conversation.”
Rosazza is a churchman with deep local roots and a global reach, a prelate known as a gifted “pastor to the pastors.” At the may conference he brought news of extensive Catholic efforts to help congregations manage and nurture the rising immi- grant demographics of their neighborhoods – and encourage parishioners to understand the struggle of many newcomers to overcome poverty and rejection.
“For my own life I’ve always used the words of Irenaeus, ‘The Glory of God is the human being fully alive,’ ” he said. “What can we do to facilitate that in our world?”
The grandson of Italian immigrants, Rosazza, born in New Haven in 1935, has worked with Hispanic immigrant churchgoers since 1970, early in his ministry. (Early on, he also taught Spanish, French, and Italian in seminary.) In 1978 he was named auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese, which today includes 700,000 church members in 216 parishes in three Connecticut counties.
He described how the local immigration scene has evolved in four decades. When he got started, the Hispanics were mostly Puerto Ricans. Now, in New Haven, Bridgeport, and other Connecticut towns, Mexicans are the biggest group. One parish, meanwhile, is 40 percent Mexican, 40 percent Colombian, 10 percent Ecuadorian. Another congregation has immigrants from eighteen Latin American nations. Today, twenty-four parishes in the archdiocese serve Spanish-speaking people. Hispanics aren’t the only immigrants, though prejudice seems to follow them.
“In New Britain there are two large Polish parishes that serve a good number of undocumented people. One rarely hears complaints about them. Is it because they are from Europe?”
The bishop stressed the importance of coordination be- tween national church efforts and the needs of local parishes, and the necessity of wedding daily practice to a theological vision of welcoming the stranger.
The archdiocesan social justice office, for instance, has engaged seven parishes to implement the denomination’s Justice for Immigrants program. under the plan, a parish team that includes the pastor invites immigrants, documented or not, to speak of their experiences and enlighten parishioners about their ordeals and thereby gain greater communal support. Also available are videos to stimulate discussion, including Dying to Live: A Migrant’s Journey and Strangers No Longer (both produced by Daniel Groody, who writes in this Reflections issue). The participating parishes also get information and advice prepared by CLINIC (Catholic Legal Immigration Network – see www.cliniclegal.org) and are urged to visit members of the state’s congressional delegation and other forms of advocacy for immigration reform.
Rosazza’s experience with immigrant poverty has long fueled a passion for speaking out: he has had a hand in the creation of important social teaching documents of the Roman Catholic leadership. He was one of five bishops who, in 1986, drafted the U.S. Catholic bishops’ pastoral letter on the national economy called “Economic Justice for All.”
And he helped produce a statement by the bishops of Connecticut that was released the day before the may 2 panel, “To See the Immigrant Through the Eyes of faith.”
The bishops felt compelled to address the climate of anxiety about immigration in the wake of the failure of Congress year after year to enact immigration reform.
Among other points, the document declares:
– “most immigrants to our nation, especially those who are undocumented, flee their homeland because of extreme poverty, violence, persecution, or natural disaster. This movement of people from one place to another has remained a constant feature of human history. from a person’s human dignity flow basic human rights, including the right to leave one’s country and find a new place to live and work. In Catholic social teaching, these rights are not given by a government; they are inherent in the human person.”
– “The notion that undocumented immigrants are as human beings inferior to legal citizens can have no justification in Christian life. Consideration of human dignity should also prevent a person from being crudely reduced to the anxious status of ‘illegal alien’ or being treated only as an economic object or a unit of labor, with no regard for family unity or the person’s social, cultural, and religious needs.”
– “As bishops of Connecticut, our main task is to help our people follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. There is no place in the Catholic family for racism, hatred of foreigners, exaggerated nationalism, or discrimination against immigrants. In the name of Jesus Christ, we must welcome the stranger at our door. He or she is a reflection of Jesus himself.”
– “In the United States, such immigration has shaped and will continue to shape significantly our economic, political, and cultural development. We are all well aware that our own nation is one built by immigrants fleeing poverty and searching for new opportunities.”