In early March I will be going to Washington, D.C. for several committee meetings of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Over the years I have been very grateful for the opportunity to serve the wider Body of Christ: in the committee on Family Life, Catholic Education, as the liaison of the Bishops’ Conference to the National Association of Separated and Divorced Catholics; for the Holy See as the Ecclesiastical Delegate for the Pastoral Provision; and with Cardinal Wuerl for the establishment of Personal Ordinariate for the Chair of St. Peter in this country. One of the works of the Conference I am currently involved in is an agency called CLINIC: The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. I am the Chairman of the Board for CLINIC, and really enjoy and admire the organization’s work and especially working with Mrs. Jeanne Atkinson, the CEO.
With the Holy Father’s recent visit to Mexico – and especially with the Mass on the Border of Ciudad Juarez and El Paso – I was reminded of the work and dedicated efforts of the folks at CLINIC on behalf of our immigrant brothers and sisters here in this country, which at its foundation is a nation of immigrants. I like to think of here as well of the poem of Emma Lazarus regarding the Statue of Liberty. It says in part “give me your tired and your poor, your huddled Masses yearning to be free…”
The Mission statement of CLINIC is “Embracing the Gospel value of welcoming the stranger, CLINIC promotes the dignity and protects the rights of immigrants in partnership with a dedicated network of Catholic and community legal immigration programs.”
I would also add here that the Catholic identity of CLINIC is fundamental. CLINIC’s Catholic identity infuses every aspect of its work – how it is governed, who it serves, how it treats its clients, the way it works, and why it does the work that it does. It operates as a legal support agency for Diocesan immigration programs.
The staff of CLINIC and its affiliated agencies work very hard for “religious worker” visas for religious and priests who come from all over the world to minister to and with our many immigrant communities. This was true in Texas and is certainly the fact here in Orange County. They partner in significant ways here with Catholic Charities of Orange County. The history of CLINIC is that “in 1988, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) established CLINIC as a legally distinct 501 (c)(3) organization to support a rapidly growing network of community-based immigration programs. CLINIC’s network originally comprised 17 programs. It has since increased to more than 260 diocesan and other affiliated immigration programs with 400 offices in 47 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. The network employs roughly 1,200 BIA accredited representatives and attorneys who, in turn, serve hundreds of low-income immigrants each year. CLINIC and its affiliate agencies represent low-income immigrants without reference to their race, religion, gender, ethic group or other distinguishing characteristics.”
In this season of Lent, which is our annual pilgrimage toward the Resurrection of the Lord, I think of the tireless work of CLINIC to work within our system to regularize the status of so many religious workers, and so many families who often live in the shadows. Their work of education, pastoral care and outreach is something that I am very proud to be involved in, and is a reflection of the love and care of the Body of Christ to so many who live on the “peripheries,” in the words of Pope Francis. The mission of CLINIC is certainly woven into the Lenten themes of Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving in many ways.
A very blessed and holy Lent to all.