Catholic Church Steps up Immigration Support, Preaching Message from Pews

The Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. is increasing pressure on lawmakers to adopt immigration reform and is taking that message to the pews, planning for a major coordinated event for Sunday Masses on Sept. 8.

"We want to try to pull out all the stops," said Kevin Appleby, the director of migration policy at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, according to The New York Times. "They have to hear the message that we want this done, and if you're not successful during the summer, you're not going to win by the end of the year."

Lawmakers have yet to decide on substantial changes to the path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, but a number of evangelical churches and groups, along with Catholics, have made it a prime focus in their mission this past year.

"How we treat the stranger is how we treat Christ himself. That message is converting evangelicals by the thousands, by the millions – and we've seen now how that conversation is changing politics," said Jim Wallis, president and CEO of the Christian ministry Sojourners, part of the Evangelical Immigration Table leaders.

"We're praying that the dysfunction can be overcome for the sake of 11 million vulnerable undocumented people that Jesus calls us to welcome. Prayer is necessary in these final stages. We are going to pray without ceasing that they can put aside their interests and agendas and finally do something together for those people and for the common good," he added.

Some analysts have pointed out, however, that not all evangelicals are supportive of immigration reform and the Evangelical Immigration Table leaders do not speak for the entire denomination.

The Catholic Church is also trying to push immigration policy to the forefront by preaching a coordinated message during Sunday Masses on Sept. 8, which the Times says is a part of a broader effort to support President Barack Obama's call for new immigration laws.

Americans have been left largely divided over a new bill proposing a 13-year pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, with a recent Gallup poll showing that 33 percent favor immigration reform, 28 percent oppose it, while 38 percent say they don't know what to think of the legislation.

Over 30 percent of Congress members are Catholics, however, including Speaker John. A. Boehner, which might bode well for such legislation.

"The connection between a pastor and their congregation is really like nothing else in society," said Ali Noorani, the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, highlighting the important role priests and bishops have in providing religious reasons to support immigration reform.

"It's pretty rare for the Catholics to take on an issue like this straight to the pews," added Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. "This is actually a much more across-the-church effort, and it shows."

The Catholic Church has clashed with the Obama administration over issues such as same-sex marriage and healthcare, which forces employers to provide birth control in insurance coverage for employees, but so far they have remained on the same page when it comes to addressing the problem that affects 11 million undocumented people in America.