Letter Campaign

Friday, Apr. 19, 2024
Letter Campaign + Enlarge

Blessed Sacrament parishioners have lost their beloved pastor. I was at the farewell reception on Saturday, and heard how much he has done for their community. Some of Father Rodelio Ignacio’s former parishioners also attended, traveling from the Park City area to bid farewell to the priest, who has to return to the Philippines because his religious visa has not been renewed, even though he submitted the paperwork at the end of 2022. At the time he was told the renewal process might take seven months, but here it is 15 months later and the government still hasn’t given its approval.
I’ve been told that the delay is the result of a change in national immigration policy that occurred last year and altered how religious workers can apply for a green card. That change apparently created a backlog in visa approvals, and if a visa expires while the holder is waiting for approval, he or she has to return to their home country for a year.
I don’t know Fr. Ignacio well, but he’s my mother’s pastor, and she’s always telling me about how much he cares for his parishioners. He’s added a regular Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to the parish calendar, and extended the hours for the Sacrament of Confession. He also will hear Confession outside those hours, if someone requests it, my mom says. She also likes that he takes the time to be with parishioners. She thinks he’s wonderful. At the reception last week others shared that opinion, and they weren’t happy that they were losing him after less than two years simply because of red tape.
Fr. Ignacio isn’t the only priest affected by this change. The Diocese of Salt Lake City has nine priests who are here on religious worker visas, as are about 10 percent of all Catholic priests in the United States, according to my research. And that’s just priests; last April the Global Sisters Report published an article quoting a religious sister stating that, because of the change in the law, international women’s religious congregations may stop sending sisters to the United States.
We already don’t have enough priests and religious women and men to serve the needs of the Catholics in the U.S.; requiring those who come from outside the country to return to their homeland simply because of red tape is outrageous, so I decided to do something about it. At Fr. Ignacio’s farewell I asked those present to contact their Congress members, and passed out copies of the sample letter that appears below. I also emailed a copy to Fr. Christopher Gray, pastor of Saint Mary of the Assumption Parish, where Fr. Ignacio had been assigned as parochial vicar.
Now I’m asking you to join me in contacting Senator Mike Lee, Senator Mitt Romney and Utah’s congressional representatives. If you haven’t done this before it can seem intimidating, but it’s actually quite easy. Simply email the letter – I suggest personalizing it a bit, with a sentence or two about how important priests and religious men and women are to you. If you prefer, you can snail mail the letter, or call your congressman or congresswoman. 
I suggest contacting both senators, because they represent everyone in the state, but members of the House of Representatives will respond only to constituents who live within the boundaries of their district. Visit https://le.utah.gov/GIS/findDistrict.jsp for the district you live in and for your representative’s contact information.
It would be nice to think that one of our senators or representatives will craft some legislation to resolve this issue for religious workers. If not, I wonder if we can somehow start a national campaign to get Catholics across the U.S. to contact their congressional representatives. Surely there are enough of us that, if we raise our collective voice, we can get the law changed. It’s either that or have fewer priests and religious sisters and brothers to minister in our dioceses.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. Reach her at marie@icatholic.org.
Changes to national immigration policies that occurred last year are causing delays in religious visas. According to the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the State Department allows only those religious workers who have an approved 1-360 petition dated before Sept. 1, 2018 to apply for a green card. This has created a backlog in the processing of green card applications and a delay in visa renewals.
Local Catholics can urge Congress to address this problem by contacting their congressional representatives. A sample letter follows.

Dear [Senator or Representative]
I am writing to ask that Congress please address the impacts of the changes to the immigration visa category on religious workers. 
Priests and other religious workers from other countries provide crucial services and spiritual support to Catholic communities here in Utah and throughout the United States. 
Our parishes here in Utah do not have enough priests to serve our needs, and one of our priests recently had to return to his home country because he was unable to get his visa renewed in a timely manner. We have another priest who is facing the same issue.
As I understand it, a change in the law last year resulted in extended wait times for visa renewal. Please ask your fellow congressional members to shorten the requirement for priests to stay one year outside the United States before they return, or make other changes that will allow foreign priests and religious workers to more easily renew their visas or obtain permanent residence status.
Sen. Mike Lee 801-524-5933
Wallace F. Bennett Federal Building
125 S. State St., Suite 4225
Salt Lake City, UT 84138
Sen. Mitt Romney 801-524-4380
125 S. State St. Suite 8402
Salt Lake City, UT 84138
Congressional representatives will only respond to requests from constituents in their district. Visit https://le.utah.gov/GIS/findDistrict.jsp for contact information for your representative.

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