In the midst of increasing tension over Trump’s immigration directives, cities such as New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco are protecting their status as sanctuary cities. Now, Catholic churches in different states have followed suit by declaring themselves sanctuary churches, or safe havens where immigrants in fear of being deported can seek shelter. Although there is no strict definition of a sanctuary city, these cities usually have a set of laws curbing federal requests for the sanctuary city to enforce the federal government’s immigration laws.
Increasing hostility over immigration to the United States, along with the current Syrian refugee crisis, has encouraged greater dialogue within the Church on how to respond. On February 21 at the VI International Forum on Migration and Peace Pope Francis spoke about the current refugee crisis and encouraged Catholics to welcome people fleeing persecution or oppressive economic situations. He focused on the importance of offering a dignified welcome, saying “A responsible and dignified welcome of our brothers and sisters begins by offering them decent and appropriate shelter.”
He also reminded the audience that welcoming those who have fled their homeland is not simply a generous Christian gesture but instead “a responsibility, a duty we have toward our brothers and sisters who, for various reasons, have been forced to leave their homeland: a duty of justice, civility and solidarity.” In the face of “rejection, rooted ultimately in self-centeredness and amplified by populist demagoguery” Pope Francis called for “a change of attitude to overcome indifference and to counter fears with a generous approach of welcoming those who knock at our doors.”
Among dioceses in the United States, the Archdiocese of San Francisco is one example of an archdiocese taking steps to extend a dignified welcome to immigrants. On its official webpage, the archdiocese reaffirms the Church’s commitment to aiding the marginalized and displaced, and offers tangible support to the immigrant community. Additionally, many Catholic churches in the San Francisco Bay area have become safe places where immigrants can seek shelter.
One such area where the Church is offering support is in Santa Clara County. According to the local San Francisco CBS affiliate, Catholic churches in Santa Clara County were designating as many as 20 places of worship as safe houses for immigrants. “We are not looking to make a political statement on sanctuary or anything like that,” said Father Jon Pedigo of the Dioceses of San Jose. “It’s basically providing refuge, support, stability and safety for a family in need.”