BUFFALO, NY - Catholic Bishop Richard Malone asked the clergy in the Diocese of Buffalo to focus their homilies on immigration reform this weekend, as part of a nationwide Catholic Church initiative aimed to raise awareness surrounding the plight of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States.
Holy Cross Parish on Buffalo's west side has a large immigrant congregation, including Angelo Gum Marial, who immigrated from his war torn homeland.
"We had a civil war in my country, the Sudan. We ran to Egypt...then when we were accepted, we came to Buffalo. It just gave us a life. It just gave us a chance, you know?"
While claiming to support security of the nation's borders, the Church is asking parishioners to push their congressional representatives for an immigration reform bill, which would --among other things--allow foreign nationals, currently living here illegally but of good character, to attain citizenship through an Earned Legalization Program.
The Church is also pushing for a Future Worker Program aimed to allow more foreign-born workers to come here legally while they work toward citizenship, so fewer would be compelled to sneak in. The Church also supports the fast tracking of Family Visas, so that those coming into the country could more quickly bring their loved ones in. Currently, that process can take years, and the church contends it tempts those family members to try to jump the line.
"I hate to say it's self interest, but frankly...it's an immediate problem for so many Catholics," said Msgr. David Gallivan, pastor of Holy Cross Parish.
"The largest growing portion of the catholic church in this world happens to be in Africa and Latin America. And there's all sorts of pushes for them to get out of their own countries because of poverty and or violence."
"We are citizens of the earth," said Marial, who came to this country alone but who has since married and started a family. "We deserve to have chances," he said.
The Catholic Church also believes that by increasing lawful means for those seeking work or freedom to come here, law enforcement can better concentrate on tracking down those who threaten public safety, be they drug traffickers, smugglers, or terrorists.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalists Dave Harrington and Ben Read. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2