Bishop Richard F. Stika has issued a pastoral letter to parishioners in the Diocese of Knoxville to address concerns following the 2016 presidential campaign and the Nov. 8 election.
The letter was delivered at all 51 diocesan churches and missions during Masses on the second weekend of Advent.
The presidential campaign and election prompted concerns about topics debated such as immigration, health care, and social justice issues, fears that appear to still be resonating with the public.
Titled “We Are One Body,” Bishop Stika’s letter reassures Church members that he is one with them as they move forward, with the Church and the Holy Spirit accompanying them.
The bishop reminds them that the Catholic Church is not a national church but is universal and united by faith and the language of Christ’s love.
The Church’s identity reflects the people who share in the faith that Christ’s peace and love conquer all.
Bishop Stika addresses the uncertainty that can lead to confusion and fear but assures East Tennessee Catholics that nothing can separate them from the love of Christ. His letter states:
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This weekend, as the Church universal celebrates the Second Sunday of Advent, I want to address some of the concerns and fears that may have arisen during the 2016 presidential campaign and since the election on Nov. 8.
First, as your Bishop, I want to remind you that we are all a pilgrim people, and we share a common life together as brothers and sisters in Christ. Even though we are citizens of the United States of America, our true citizenship is in Heaven. Indeed we are members of the same body. As St. Paul says, “Now you are Christ’s body and individually parts of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
The Scriptures tell one long story of migration: Abraham migrating from Chaldea to Canaan, Jacob and his family migrating from Canaan to Egypt in a time of famine, Moses leading the people out of this land of slavery, and Joshua leading them into the Promised Land. Israel was exiled in Babylon and returned from exile. Because of the chosen people’s experiences of being a stranger in a strange land, the Scriptures constantly command them and us to not mistreat the immigrant in our midst, “for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.”
The Catholic Church is not a national church. We are catholic, international, and universal. Every nation and race is a brother and sister in Christ. While we have a right and a responsibility to have an orderly immigration process, that can never excuse treating anyone as a lesser person. Our human dignity comes from God, not from a law or nation. The Catholic Church is our home, and we all have our citizenship in Heaven. And the one language we must all strive to be fluent in is the language of faith, spoken in love.
As a nation, the United States of America has been the beneficiary of so many immigrant groups that had the courage and fortitude to come to America. They came fleeing horrific conditions and harboring a dream of a better life for their children. They were some of the most industrious, ambitious, and enterprising citizens of their own countries and brought enormous energy and goodwill to their new homeland. Their hard work and sacrifices have made this country great. Each person’s presence and contributions are needed today as well.
From the beginning of our country, the Catholic Church has been here to welcome new people who come with the dream of freedom and progress. It is part of our identity as the Church to be a place of hospitality and welcome.
While uncertainty can lead to confusion and fear, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. I want to assure you that our Church family is here to walk with you in these times of uncertainty and fear. Through our parishes and Catholic Charities, we will continue to serve you and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We know that whenever we serve the most vulnerable among us, we are in fact serving Christ himself.
When Pope St. John Paul II visited Mexico in 1999, he declared Our Lady of Guadalupe to be the Patroness of all of the Americas. Our Lady’s words to Juan Diego are also for us today. “… Let your face and your heart not be troubled, don’t be afraid… Am I not here, I who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and my bosom…?”
As we hear in our second reading today, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another.”
May God bless you and your families, and may He grant you peace. ■