FEBRUARY 1, 2017 | PITTSBURGH, PA – “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” – Leviticus 19:33-34

We are ALL immigrants. As representatives of more than 17 communities of Catholic Sisters serving in western Pennsylvania, we are united by our shared immigrant heritage and are compelled to continue to speak up for those who have no voice.

Our founding Sisters were immigrants or daughters of immigrants. Some orders came to America centuries ago, and others were formed here to serve the needs of a young nation filled with the hope and promise of freedom for all. We share a mission to serve the poor and oppressed, which in the early days of the United States included immigrant populations from Europe in need of spiritual guidance, education, healthcare, compassion and mercy.

Answering this call, our Sisters established and staffed schools and hospitals. We fed the physical and spiritual hunger of those navigating the divides of culture and language while helping to power the workforce and drive the prosperity of a land where Lady Liberty welcomed them with open arms to her shores.

Assimilation did not come without challenges. Our Sisters and other fledgling Americans faced discrimination based on their ethnicity and religion as they strived to become citizens of this melting pot society. But our Sisters and those they served persevered and became diverse threads in the colorful fabric of our region and our country. They educated generations of children, served tirelessly in our churches, comforted the sick, advocated for the oppressed and brought spiritual comfort to starving souls.

So it is with great concern and disappointment that we see this same discrimination faced by our ancestors directed toward Muslims and other immigrants and refugees seeking the safety, hope and promise that our country has always represented. We join Pope Francis, Bishop David Zubik and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration in expressing our deep concerns about the President’s executive order.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” – Hebrews 13:2

We understand and support the responsibility of any government to safeguard its citizens. However, we firmly reject the Trump Administration’s ban on immigrants and refugees – no matter how temporary it may be – as a credible means of keeping Americans safe. We are deeply troubled by an executive order that is in such dramatic contrast to the fundamental values upon which our country was founded.

We reject the very notion that Muslim men, women and children pose any threat to Americans solely on the basis of their faith and, therefore, strongly disagree with any action taken against any people solely on the basis of their race, ethnicity, country or origin or faith. We also do not believe that Americans at home or abroad are made any less safe by providing shelter and safety for vulnerable men, women and children who are fleeing violence and other life-threatening circumstances in their homelands.

We offer gratitude to the civic leaders and elected officials who have already spoken in favor of welcoming vulnerable migrants and refugees, and applaud judicial rulings that have stayed portions of the ban. We urge our leaders, regardless of political party, to continue to speak and act boldly and courageously in upholding the Constitution and our country’s fundamental values.

Likewise, we urge faith leaders to join us in speaking, acting and advocating for the preservation of religious freedom in the United States. We also particularly urge Christians to join us in rejecting any hint of priority because of our faith.

The refugees and immigrants detained at our airports are no different than the families who came to our ports at other times in our country’s history. They arrive, suitcases in hand and hope in their hearts – some to escape unimaginable circumstances and some simply to make a better future – just like our ancestors. We can see in their faces the very same promise as in the previous generations of our own families and Sisters who came before us.

It is our profound hope that Lady Liberty shall never extend her palms in rejection, but rather maintain the welcoming embrace she has always offered. It is imperative that every society learn from its mistakes and draw lessons from its past. Now is the time for our country to reexamine its origins and reaffirm the values that have made it and its people great.

The Catholic Sisters Leadership Council represents 17 communities of women religious who have century-long roots in Western Pennsylvania. We work together to advance the mission of religious communities and promote understanding of women religious, both within our individual congregations and throughout the broader community. In our work and daily lives, we abide by the gospel mandate to welcome the stranger.