By Devin Watkins
“The Church in the United States has always been a Church of immigrants.”
Bishop Edgar da Cunha, SDV, of Fall River in Massachusetts, made that point in an interview with Sr Bernadette Reis.
He was speaking on the sidelines of his ad limina Apostolorum visit to Rome, which he and 17 other US Bishops are making this week.
Bishop da Cunha is a member of the USCCB Subcommittee on the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees, and Travelers.
Built wave on wave
“Immigrants built the Church in the United States,” he said.
Many came from European countries and brought their Catholic faith with them. Catholics made up only 5% of the US population in 1850. But, due to successive waves of immigration, 17% of Americans were Catholic by 1906 (14 million out of population of 82 million).
“More recently, we have immigrants from Latin America, Africa, and Asia,” said Bishop da Cunha, adding that now 48% of Catholics in the US are “Latinos”.
The Church, said Bishop da Cunha, “recognizes that without immigrants the Church wouldn’t even exist.”
Church defends immigrants’ rights
He said immigrants and the Catholic Church in the United States have a sort of symbiotic relationship, where each helps the other.
Immigrants “need the Church to defend their rights, to defend their families, to unite families that are sometimes divided and broken by immigration, and to recognize that they have dignity and rights. Sometimes the Church is the only institution speaking about those issues,” he said.
Some immigrants are afraid to claim their rights, he said, because they are undocumented. “And the Church keeps defending and proclaiming” that they do have rights.
Part of the community
Immigrants to the United States, concluded Bishop da Cunha, should not be “like tenants renting a space. They have to be welcomed as part of the community, and every parish has to see them as new members that are coming to strengthen and to give life to the parish.”