“Welcoming the Stranger” – A Lesson in Catholic Social Teaching

Every once in a while, and especially during warm weather, someone will say to me, “Looks like you’ve been to the beach?” My standard response is that I’m Hawaiian, born and raised in Hawaii and I get dark just thinking about the sun. Then they ask me about my last name and if that’s Spanish? I tell them yes but what I don’t tell them is that I’m basically Heinz 57…including Irish, Portuguese, English, and believe it or not, Chinese. My grandmother’s great-great grandfather named Mo Pi Fun came from China and arrived in Hawaii with his Chinese queue or ponytail.

We are "they". We are all children of God.

We are “they”. We are all children of God.

There are millions of us in the U.S. whose names reflect who we are as a nation. We are a nation of immigrants. There are 75 million foreign-born people and their children living in the United States. Most of us can trace our ancestors back to other countries and many came here for personal or religious freedom, safety, economic opportunity, or a better life for their family. Unfortunately, some fled because of persecution. Catholic Charities of the East Bay’s Refugee Resettlement Department led by Sister Elisabeth Lang, and our Immigration Department led by Christopher Martinez, have many stories from their clients who lived in fear, went through heart-wrenching separation from their family or suffered inhumane treatment. Sister Elisabeth can tell you about the young couple who fled their home when the government “relocated” their entire village. Christopher hears from our clients about the angst and confusion of navigating the ever-changing immigration system , living in fear of being forced to return to the country they fled.

Refugees and Immigrants bring many talents and skills to the U.S. They are hard-working, industrious, and religious, have strong family values, and want to belong, contribute and be productive community citizens. Unfortunately, there are many myths about immigrants and refugees. For example, they don’t pay taxes or they take American jobs. The reality is that they contribute over $2B in taxes annually to the State of California alone and they also facilitate economic growth by filling jobs in retail, agriculture, landscaping, restaurants, and hotels that enable those sectors to expand and attract investments and create more middle class jobs.

In a recent blog post, Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, urged us to join with the California Bishops in support of a “comprehensive response to the humanitarian crisis of a broken immigration system.” Catholic Social Teaching calls for empathy, understanding, and justice and dignity for all, and that means “Welcoming the Stranger.” In the end, it is not “they,” the immigrant or refugee, because we are a nation of immigrants and refugees. We are “they.” We are all children of God.

Have you heeded Christ’s call to “welcome the stranger?” We encourage you to share your story with us in the comment section below.

With kindest regards,


I invite you to come and see how our commitment to “Welcoming the Stranger” is transforming more lives than ever. Our Transforming Lives Tours are on the second and third Thursday of every month at our main office located on 433 Jefferson Street, Oakland. Please contact Debra Gunn at (510) 768-3142 or dgunn@cceb.org to attend.