Written by: Sister Rose Marie Tresp, RSM
June 5, 2013
Our visit to La Casita this morning was wonderful narrative
of rapidly responding to the needs of the people of Alabama. One of the
communities in Alabama with the greatest needs is that of the newest
immigrants. This is the story of the Catholic Church in Alabama since the
children of Italian immigrants were refused admittance to the public schools.
The Benedictine Sisters and the Mercy Sisters responded by starting schools.
Today, the communities with the greatest needs are the
immigrant communities from many parts of the world. Although these immigrant
communities contribute to the state’s economy with over $5.8 billion in
purchasing power, employing over 7000 people in Asian and Latino-owned
businesses, and paying over $130 million in state and local taxes (Immigration
Policy Center), undocumented immigrants have a tough time here.
When the former Bishop of Birmingham saw the need, he spoke
to his candidate for Director of Catholic Social Services about responding more
to the needs of the immigrants. To indicate his commitment to the immigrant
community, the Bishop multiplied by 10 the funding for Catholic Social
Services. Wow, that is a real commitment!
La Casita offers many services such as English as a Second
Language, Tutoring for the Citizenship Exam, immigration services, parenting,
tax preparation and other services. The Center also has a disaster preparation
storage area, ready to go in the event of another natural disaster.
What was most inspiring and encouraging was the enthusiasm
and dedication of the staff and the participants in the programs. There is a
real sense of community here. But the staff doesn’t do it alone. The staff
works with the Latter Day Saints, the Lutherans, the Red Cross, the Eagle
Scouts, the Literacy Council and the parishes. And these groups not only
respond to the short-term needs of people in need, but look to the longer-term
importance of better immigration laws.
An interesting side note is that the first European language
to be spoken in Alabama was Spanish and the first Christian religious
celebration was Catholic!