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How the Catholic Church Is Taking the Lead On Immigration

Bishop Barber welcomed applicants and guests to the Cathedral of Christ the Light

Bishop Barber welcomed applicants and guests to the Cathedral of Christ the Light

Some might chalk it up to the Pope Francis effect. Others might contend that the issue of immigration is truly top of mind for Americans. Whatever the case, turnout at the October 17th free citizenship and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) workshops at the Cathedral of Christ the Light was unprecedented. On top of that, the energy and enthusiasm of those who were embarking on the pathway to citizenship, trying to emerge from the “shadows” through DACA, or volunteering to help, was palpable.

“I think when people see that the event is being held here, this is the church doing what it’s supposed to do, because we’re doing what Jesus did,” explained Bishop Michael Barber. “When we help people with their needs, and treat them as human beings first, as children of God first, that’s Pope Francis’ message.”

The workshop was indeed a strong response to Pope Francis’ challenge that, as a nation and as a church, we do more to “welcome the stranger.”

“Before you’re classified as native or foreigner, American, Costa Rican, Mexican, or Chinese, we’re all Children of God first, created in his image,” continued Bishop Barber. “That’s our primary relationship with one another, and that’s why the church is here, helping people that are coming, no matter where they are from or their situation. I’m excited, I’m so proud.”

As a group, the East Bay Naturalization Collaborative (EBNatz), of which Catholic Charities is a member, saw over 160 volunteers help 160 people complete their application for United States citizenship. That is more applicants than any previous EBNatz workshop in Oakland. The Oakland DACA/DAPA Project (DAPA stands for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans), is another collaborative of which Catholic Charities is a member, helped 25 people apply for DACA status. Such strong turnout and volunteer support is a testament to Pope Francis’ impact on the hearts and minds of people in the East Bay and across the entire nation.

Cecilia Olivares arrived at 5:30 am, excited to start on the ‘pathway to citizenship

Cecilia Olivares arrived at 5:30 am, excited to start on the ‘pathway to citizenship

One applicant, Cecilia Olivares, a parishioner of Saint John the Baptist Church in San Leandro, arrived at 5:30 am. “I wanted to arrive early because I have problems with my knee, and I didn’t want to stand up the whole time,” she explained in her native Spanish. “I wanted to arrive early and be first in line. I am excited,” she said with a nervous giggle.  She came to apply for citizenship because it will give her more confidence, and she will feel a little bit more free. “I don’t feel that right now because I am just a resident and there are other benefits that I can receive as a US Citizen.”

Olivia Lantin-Anzures came with her sister and daughter-in-law. “I’ve been a citizen since 1983, and that was a wonderful day,” she recalled. “Being here in America, being a US citizen… I think that you have more privilege, and I think that’s a great opportunity for us, to be an immigrant, and live in America for a while, it is a pleasure to have that citizenship, that certificate.”

Olivia Lantin-Anzures is happy that the Catholic Church is helping fellow immigrants

Olivia Lantin-Anzures is happy that the Catholic Church is helping fellow immigrants

Olivia is very active in Saint Anne Catholic Church in Union City, which has a strong Filipino presence. She stressed the importance of the church hosting this important workshop. “I think this special event is truly a great help for all of the community, as a family, and for the church, to help the needy. Some people cannot even afford to file for citizenship. For us to qualify, that is a big help. Being a Catholic, this is truly a pleasure to be here and be a part of this community, and help my daughter-in-law and my sister to file for their citizenship.”

We encourage you to learn more about how Catholic Charities is Welcoming the Stranger. We invite you to join us for our Transforming Lives Tour. Our final tour of 2015 will be on Thursday, December 10th  from 12 pm – 1 pm at our main office located on 433 Jefferson Street, Oakland. From January through September of 2016, we will hold our regular tours on the 2nd and 3rd Tuesday of every month, also from 12 pm – 1 pm at our main office in Oakland. Please contact Debra Gunn at (510) 768-3142 or dgunn@cceb.org to attend.

Transforming Lives…Take the Tour, Learn More and Get Involved!

By Eric Steckel