Franciscan president on King: 'I pity the poor man'
Leader of order behind St. Anthony Hospital pressing for comprehensive immigration reform
August 28, 2013
The president of the order of Catholic sisters that sponsors St. Anthony Regional Hospital actively supports immigration reform with a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million people living in the United States without proper documents.
Sister Linda Mershon of the La Crosse-Wis.-based Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration said she believes much of the opposition to reform is based on race - and she had strong criticism for the recent controversial comments on immigration and Hispanics from U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Kiron Republican and Roman Catholic.
In a phone interview with The Daily Times Herald, Mershon said the Franciscan Sisters join with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in advocating comprehensive immigration reform.
"It would be a path to citizenship, and we're right with the bishops on that," Mershon said.
Many in the Franciscan Sisters community work on immigration issues, she said. Mershon expects the Franciscan Sisters' congregation parish to make an active stand on Sept. 8 for a path to citizenship as part of a broader Catholic Church push for reform that Sunday.
"All of our ancestors are immigrants, so at what point to do you draw the line?" Mershon said.
Mershon said she questions the legitimacy of the "rule of law" argument used by opponents of the U.S. Senate immigration reform approach - one that includes a path to citizenship.
"I think when people are trying to make life better for their families by coming to the United States to do legitimate work that we should let them come," Mershon said. "Perhaps that's naive. But we ought to find a way for people who are trying to better their lives and the lives of their families to come to the U.S. because many of them come and do work that our kids and our young people and our citizens won't do."
Mershon said she doesn't think immigration would be a political thicket were it not for race.
"I think color has something to do with it," she said. "I think culture has something to do with it. I certainly think language has something to do with it. These are all things when you're talking about cross-cultural issues, these are all things that scare people. Different languages, different colors. If they were blond and blue-eyed down there, you know, we don't have any problem with people coming across from Canada."
Mershon, at a recent gathering, wore a T-shirt quoting Matthew 25:35: "I was a stranger, and you welcomed me."
"That's the piece I want to say to Catholics, is that if you read the scripture, Jesus clearly says to welcome the stranger," Mershon said. "Welcome the immigrant. I mean, it is so clear I don't know how you could reinterpret it any other way."
Her shirt crosses out the word "stranger" and replaces it with "immigrant" - and adds "Jesus" at the bottom.
In a recent interview with LaPrensa, a western and central Iowa Spanish-language newspaper, King said Matthew's stranger actually means someone asked into a home, not an uninvited guest.
"Well, I think somebody probably believes that explanation - and that's their problem," Mershon said. "That's not how we read it."
Mershon also disagreed with King's highly publicized inflammatory assessment of the ratio between Hispanic immigrant valedictorians and drug smugglers.
King, a fierce opponent of a path to citizenship for immigrants in the United States without proper papers, told the conservative news website Newsmax in July that he didn't agree with the suggestion that many youths who aren't legal citizens are also high-achieving.
"For every one who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert," King said.
"Yeah, I read that comment," Mershon said. "Oh, the poor guy, the poor guy."
She stopped short of calling the comment racist.
"I pity the poor man that he sees humanity in that way," Mershon said. "Sure, there are some bad folks, and there are bad immigrants occasionally, but the majority of us are good people trying to do the best we can."
Mershon said she knows a lot of immigrants personally.
"If it's anything, it's the statistic is the other way around," she said. "Every hundred immigrants we know, maybe there's a bad apple. That's the nature of humanity, isn't it? It doesn't have to do with Mexicans or Hispanics."
Her message to other Catholics on immigration: "Please don't be afraid to open your arms to people who are different from you because that's what God wants from us."
Father Joseph Kuemper founded St. Anthony Regional Hospital with the assistance of the Franciscan Sisters, who have sponsored the medical center since 1905. Today, St. Anthony, a not-for-profit with a strong Catholic mission, employs about 650 people.
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