The Dignity of the Human Person

A week or so ago, I watched with shame as an angry mob in southern California surrounded buses filled with frightened, hungry, homeless immigrants, shaking fists, and shouting for them to “get out!”

It was un-American; it was un-biblical; it was inhumane.  It worked, as the scared drivers turned the buses around and sought sanctuary elsewhere.

The incendiary scene reminded me of Nativist mobs in the 1840’s, Know-Nothing gangs in the 1850’s, and KKK  thugs in the 1920’s, who hounded and harassed scared immigrants, Catholics, Jews, and Blacks.

I think of this sad incident today, the feast of New York’s own Kateri Tekakwitha, a native-American (a Mohawk) canonized a saint just three years ago.  Unless we are Native Americans, like Saint Kateri, our ancestors all came here as homesick, hungry, hopeful immigrants.  I don’t think there were any Mohawks among that mob attacking the buses of refugee women and children.

Then on Saturday I watched another scene on the TV news.  Again there were busloads of shy, scared, immigrant women and children; again, there were crowds; this time – – in McAndrews, Texas – – the crowd was applauding the arriving refugees, and helping them into Sacred Heart Parish Hall, where parishioners and Catholic Charities workers welcomed them with a meal, a cold drink, a shower and fresh clothes, toys for the kids, and a cot as they helped government officials try to process them and figure out the next step.

 This time I was not ashamed, but relieved and grateful, proud to be an American and a Catholic.

We might argue and yell about policies, processes, and politics; we can never argue about the dignity of the human person or the sacredness of life, or yell at people who need our help.

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32 Responses to “The Dignity of the Human Person”

  1. I am proud to be an American and I do believe that we are a nation of laws. If we feel that America should have open borders, there is a legislative process to accomplish that.

  2. Josie says:

    I have disagree with you on this. Yes we should be charitable, but enough is is enough
    when it comes to illigal imagrants. When our parents and grandparents came to America they came through the proper channels. It is not right for illigal allians to get things, like insurance medicaid and drivers liscenes, when they are not even citizens.

  3. Michael Marmolejo says:

    You’re Eminence, over and over again I hear the Bishops speaking to US Catholics and all US citizens telling us our responsibilities to the “illegal” immigrant. While I agree with our bishops’ stance on the dignity of these people the one thing I have longed to hear is the bishops speaking to the “illegal” and/or “legal” immigrant’s responsibilities to their host nation. I believe if the bishops publicly speak to both the responsibilities of the concerned US citizen and the immigrants the bishops would greatly aid in a better understanding for all. As a side note it often appears many of the bishops stoop to the level of the media in mischaracterizing and lumping the intent of the majority of the objectors. I applaud you for recognizing the good deeds of those in Texas who greeted the immigrants with open arms. I also ask that you recognize that many of those objecting to the influx of illegal immigrants are otherwise people of compassion at a breaking point who are trying to send a message more to our dysfunctional government than to the immigrants. It is my hope you and your fellow bishops will address the responsibilities of the immigrants and show a more than passing understanding of those who object.

  4. Kerry Conboy says:

    To Gene, Josie, and Michael – the current system of “legal channels” to obtain lawful status in the US is broken, convoluted, and outright unjust. We are in desperate need of comprehensive immigration reform to establish a legislative system that creates pathways for immigrants to apply for lawful status. For the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are here, there is no way to “get in line” or “apply the right way” because our immigration system is outdated. For those who are outside the country and want to immigrant legally, the waiting periods are 20, 50, and 80 years. There are not enough visas available to meet the demands of US labor or to meet the needs of the humanitarian crisis at hand.

    Let’s stop blaming vulnerable immigrant populations who fear for their lives and contribute to US society in meaningful ways and pressure Congress and the House to get CIR done once and for all. It’s time we come together as US citizens with voting influence to send the message to our dysfunctional government instead of trying to send the message by inhumanely deporting and mocking those who need our help.

  5. Mike says:

    I support your message here fully. It saddens me that the other three comments do not.

  6. Moira says:

    Beautiful sentiment, Your Eminence. Baby Jesus and his parents were refugees as well, fleeing the violence of King Herod. We should follow His commandments and shelter and feed these children and their parents just as we would shelter and feed Him.

  7. Lenore says:

    Cardinal Dolan, I thank you for your wisdom, compassion and courage to say what’s in your heart. Yes, we are all immigrants, except the native people. Some of our ancestors invaded this land and stole it, making and breaking treaties- so there can be no arrogance about who are the real Americans.

    Children are being terrorized, killed and tortured and are fleeing for their lives. I hope the Church can help to educate Americans about the real conditions on the ground in these countries. We spent untold billions invading other countries for our “security” (how is that working?)- maybe we should invest in helping our southern neighbors to stabilize their countries. Complex to accomplish, yes. How much does drug use and demand for illegal drugs drive the cartels and violence? What can we do as Americans to support healthy economies in south america?

  8. Terry D'Erchia says:

    Unlike the other respondents, I am grateful for your willingness to recognize the terrible inhumanity of those who would angrily mob a bus load of frightened children. Yes, this is a difficult dilemma for all but nevertheless we must respond with compassion and respect. Those who would politicize such a sad situation are missing an opportunity to serve the call to embrace these innocents even as next steps are determined. Thank you for taking such a strong stand to protect these children from further trauma.

  9. John says:

    I suspect that at the time of the “legal” immigration that my ancestors went through nearly 200 years ago, there were many who protested. There were probably many who gathered up in the neighborhoods around Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan who did not want those new immigrants there. The difference is, in my view, legal v. illegal.

    My ancestors came here off the boats from England and Ireland, pulled up to the shores of NY, entered America and promptly had their name changed, were given a temporary job and housing and told to report back at a certain time. We certainly don’t handle immigration that way anymore, but essentially we probably should. We some of my ancestors came after the potato famine that is exactly the way they were brought into this country. Not unlike the scenario we are in now; a massive influx of one group of people entering through one particular part of the country. Back then, we at least had some control over the entry process, or at least tried to exert control. Now, it is a free for all with every possible US law being broken, relaxed, or ignored….in addition to various state laws, human trafficking laws, etc.

    So the compassionate thing to do here is not to welcome these “illegal migrants” (that’s not my term, it’s Obama’s new term for them) with open arms to feed, cloth, and provide medicines, etc., but to send them back and insist that they not make their first act at becoming a US citizen to be one that breaks our laws. We respect them, and want to help them, but continual handouts are only increasing the illegal migrant problem we HAVE been facing and are continuing to face now. If poverty and war and gangs are such a problem in their home country, they should rise up to “fix it.” Americans can give support to their efforts, but simply taking on all these migrants is not possible. Nations and generations before them have done that as history demonstrates.

  10. John says:

    @Kerry: Every point and sentence you wrote is debatable including the statement that these people are here to “contribute to US society in meaningful ways.” Tell that to the 16 people who hang out all day long on the front grass of a neighboring house to me drinking and yucking it up. Weekends, weekday, evenings…doesn’t matter. There is always a crowd there from the overcrowded house hanging out. They aren’t out working a 60 or 80 hour work week.

    And the legal immigration system is not as broken as everyone thinks it is. Main problem is staff and resources have been diverted from helping those get in legally towards taking care of, managing, documenting, securing, etc. those who are here illegally. End the flow of illegals and having to deal with that situation and you will see the timeline for legal entry shorten.

  11. Vince O'Brien says:

    Cardinal Dolan- Thank you for taking a courageous stand. I’m not sure of this translation, but it rings true for me:

    “Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

    and “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” (King James Bible)

    This is not about politics, this is about our basic humanity…and there is no law that can make compassion illegal, or the need to care of children anything but an essential act of love.

  12. John says:

    I am not sure you people commenting here actually know what is going on in the home countries of these migrants. The “terrorizing” part that everyone speaks of is actually occurring, in most instances, as part of the transport process to get to America. It isn’t, in fact, happening in their home nations like you think it is. Don’t listen to the mainstream media spin on this. Do your own homework. I did.

    These migrants are coming here coached into what phrases to use and what to say. The gangs are intercepting them at the border and making threats taking advantage of people in desperate situations. Poverty? Have you seen the pictures of the migrants filling trains? You are hard pressed to find a malnourished kid. Most are overweight. Who’s helping the impoverished Africa kids get to America? That continent has a a massive poverty problem. All those kids just sit there decade after decade. We send aid to them, but never encourage them to get to America so we can take care of them. Why is this situation different now?

  13. John Eley says:

    Many of these responses fail to recognize that there is a fundamental difference between advocating that Christians as Christians respond in certain ways to the developing illegal immigration crisis at the border and advocating certain public policies by the US government of even local governments. Christians can act as Christians on a purely voluntary basis and take in immigrants as they choose. Not so governments because they are responsible for all the people. Thus there is a direct and major conflict between the ethics of private voluntary action based on free choice and the ethics of collective action by the government grounded in coercion. The core characteristic of the government is that it possesses the monopoly of legal force in the society. When the state acts it always does so in the context of the use of latent or active coercion as the mechanism of enforcement. When religious leaders ask the state to use its powers and authorities to promote ends that they favor and to oppose efforts of other segments of the society they are favoring mandatory over voluntary compliance. Thus religious leaders should use moral persuasion with great restraint because there will be many in the society who will lose their freedom and be compelled to follow the dictates of the state when it chooses policies that are supported by religious advocates.

    If religious leaders expect that the government will refrain from burdening the free exercise of religion, except when there are clear and compelling public interests in doing so, they should in turn, seek the exercise of the coercive power of the government only when they have convinced themselves that there is a clear and compelling public interest in do so doing. In this regard it will not suffice to cite a Biblical passage that urges the faithful or the state to stand for a certain principle in the society.

  14. William Wright says:

    Many of these children are not immigrants, they are refugees. They are refugees from broken countries. They are refugees from gangs made wealthy by sending drugs to the U.S.- drugs used by American citizens. They are refugees from gangs armed with assault weapons that originate in the U.S. They are refugees because of what we as Americans have failed to do, solve our drug problems and control all weapons that are made only to kill people.

    As Catholic, I am told that Jesus cares for each of us. He must now look down and weep.

  15. Jerry Hartman says:

    A similar “demonstation against illegals,” on an much smaller scale, occured recently near Reading, PA. The following was sent to the local newpaper:

    Reference the demonstration at the Bethany Children’s Home, this letter is not intended as a political statement, nor am I one to quote the Bible on a regular basis, reading of the protestors however (Berks takes sides on border crisis kids, June 21st) a verse from Matthew (25:40) immediately came to mind: “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, you do unto me.” Surely these poor children are among His least.

  16. sylvia says:

    Thank you for reminding people of their own history and how all who live in this country now had their origins as Americans directly linked to their own family ancestors immigrating to this land. This land belongs to the indigenous peoples who were given the general title name of “Indians” All Others who came to this land were foreigners who left their own country looking for a better life for themselves and their families.

    Like these children and their mothers, they too were desperate to find a new land and opportunity to find religious freedom and equal justice in their economic lives and civil liberties.

    So YEAH – all you folks who want to find a forget your own history and the history of the great country so profess such great love for. If you call yourself a Christian and a believer in the tenets of your religious faith – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This rule for humanity has been preached by all the great religions of the world and is one of the most, if not the most important concept that will finally bring peace and justice and equality for the humanity.

    As for the “we can’t afford them” – how can we say that while we at the same time accept that our government spends billions on weapons of destruction or gives billions to the wealthy in our society who don’t need this money.

    If you are not a Native American – your history is the same as that of these people who want to make a better life for themselves.

  17. Mary-Margaret Miller says:

    Thank you, Cardinal Dolan for your beautiful words. You expressed what is in my heart, what my Catholic upbringing and education taught me. Jesus said, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” We must open our hearts to these children and give them sanctuary just as we would do for Jesus.

  18. Nancy Maher says:

    Thank you, Cardinal, for lending your powerful voice to aid these children. Please continue to be forceful and outspoken in reminding us that we have a moral obligation to care for those less fortunate. God bless you.

  19. Jackinnj says:

    Guess the author: “The reason for this was that if foreigners were allowed to meddle with the affairs of a nation as soon as they settled down in its midst, many dangers might occur, since the foreigners not yet having the common good firmly at heart might attempt something hurtful to the people.”

  20. Sara says:

    While not affiliated with any one church or religion. I am strongly moved with compassion for these children. In my very small world and religious background, I believe it is acts of good will, not judgement which is required.

    While throwing stones, human need is being ignored. Children and their families are in turmoil. Looking down at our feet while grumbling is of no service to humanity.

    Is there a great need to address immigration? Yes. These children however, do not deserve to be expended. Let us set down our armor. Let us set aside our emotion. Only then will we be open to listen and work together as we come to a resolve on the topic.

  21. Barry Hudock says:

    This fine column by Cardinal Dolan reminds me of Cardinal O’Connor — I think it’s very much the response he would have had, both in substance and style, as well. Cardinal Dolan does honor here to the memory of his great predecessor’s wise and holy leadership. Thank you.

  22. Mary Ann Ganey says:

    I was heartened to read the Cardinal’s words. I am heartsick that I have not seen more members of the clergy going to the border to reach out to these children and mothers – to minister to them. Perhaps they are there but that is not being covered, however, with the Cardinal’s high visibility in the media his presence would certainly get coverage and put his words into reality.

    A further thought: In New York there is this wonderful symbol of freedom – the Statue of Liberty – with the words of Emma Lazarus – perhaps it is time for someone to cover her up as a response to our failure to welcome these children. Again another symbolic place for the Cardinal to speak out publicly.

  23. Tony Meade says:

    “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.”

    “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’”

    “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

    Matthew 25:35-40

  24. Nanabedokw'Môlsem says:

    Just a tweak. St Kateri was of mixed Mohawk-Algonquin ancestry, uniting in her person both sides of a many centuries long feud. Among the matrilineal Mohawk, she was ‘other’ … among the patrilineal Algonquin she was ‘other’. In her person a uniter, who helped others no matter who they were.
    Oliwni (thank you).

  25. April Vazquez says:

    Thank you, Cardinal Dolan, for your leadership on this issue. It was a beautiful post, and it makes clear that we as Christians must do the right thing, the Christian thing, even when it’s unpopular.

  26. Doug Norby says:

    Cardinal Dolan, I am an American. I am not Catholic. I belong to a Protestant denomination. Thank you for what you wrote. I’m proud to have you as a fellow American and brother in Christ. God’s Peace.

  27. Robert Alexander says:

    Cardinal Dolan,

    In my home state of Maine, ine in four children aged 5 and under live in poverty. 15% of Mainers are food insecure, meaning that they do not possess an adequate daily supply of food. Where is the compassion for these American citizens?

    Tens of millions of Americans are unemployed, mired in poverty, and overly reliant on government programs. Our nation is overwhelmed by debt. We cannot solve the problems of the world, sir.

    America is going bankrupt and impoverished. We need to put our own citizens first.

  28. Robert Alexander says:

    *One in four children

  29. Adam Rasmussen says:

    God bless you for your witness for justice and human dignity, Cardinal Dolan. If you welcome the stranger or the alien, you welcome our Lord Jesus Christ himself. He said so.

  30. Sister Eileen Judge, SCNY says:

    Cardinal Dolan,
    I’m with Lenoir. You have shown real leadership. Now, my question to you is this: how can we respond, as a community of faith, in a practical, coordinated way??

  31. Walter Ayres says:

    Thank you, Cardinal Dolan. Those who are interested in learning more about the Catholic church and immigration should visit the bishops’ website, Justice for Immigrants at

    It carefully explains why the Church does not condone illegal immigration but does urge are for immigrants.

  32. Thank you Cardinal Dolan, for your lovingly compassionate argument for the welfare of children, all children and mothers in need. We might well include any human in distress in that call to assistance.

    Agape, sir.