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Cardinal’s letter calls for immigration reform

Many Central and South American immigrants in Boston on Sunday said they appreciated a letter from Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley making a case for comprehensive immigration reform, but they wondered how effective it would be.

As part of a nationwide effort by American leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to press Congress on the issue, O’Malley recently released a letter appealing for the reform of the country’s immigration laws and inviting Catholics to support the effort.

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The Boston Archdiocese asked its priests to convey the letter to parishioners this weekend in a church bulletin or in a homily.

Noting that Catholicism in America has been inextricably linked to immigration, O’Malley wrote that the church’s position on reform “rests on the conviction that moral ideas about dignity and justice call for changes in the current policies.”

Outside a church in East Boston and at the Brazilian Festival in Brighton, Bostonians who have moved here from other countries were generally supportive of O’Malley’s letter.

At an 8 a.m. Spanish-language Mass at the Most Holy Redeemer Parish in East Boston, the Rev. John Doyle, a senior pastor, told parishioners to call their congressmen or the White House and speak their minds about immigration laws.

“It’s very unfair,” Doyle said after the service, speaking about current laws.

‘What the bishops are doing is inviting their congregations to think about this issue.’

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“These people, and many of them are undocumented, are being deprived of their human rights, their economic rights, and their justice rights,” Doyle said.

Ana Pineda of East Boston, who was born in El Salvador, said she appreciates the encouragement from the archdiocese and Doyle. “We said thank you to him, because he’s a support to us,” she said, leaving the 8 a.m. Mass.

Doyle, the oldest son of Scottish-Canadian immigrants, grew up in Dorchester and spent 25 years as a pastor in Bolivia. He is now retired but comes to the Most Holy Redeemer Church on weekends to say Mass and hear confessions. He said he was glad to see the archdiocese support immigrants, which have come to the church for generations.

However, Jose Martinez of East Boston, who came to the United States from El Salvador about 20 years ago, said he believes the church is a place for prayer, not activism.

“You can’t mix politics with Christian life,” said Martinez, who attended Most Holy Redeemer’s 10 a.m. English-language Mass, which was presided by the Rev. Thomas Domurat. “Jesus Christ is Jesus Christ, and lay-life is lay-life. You can’t mix one thing with another; everything has a time.”

At the Brazilian Festival in Brighton, Eliana Coelho of Brighton was wearing a Santo Antonio shirt and a cross necklace. She said she immigrated to the United States from Brazil 28 years ago and attends Catholic services every day at St. Anthony’s Church in Allston.

She said she thought it was good that the archdiocese was supporting new immigration laws, which she believes Congress should have passed a long time ago.

But, she added, she did not know what the church could do that other organizations and groups cannot.

“I don’t know how they can do that, but if they start, they can do something,” she said.

Marcelo Silva of Brighton, who grew up going to Catholic churches in Brazil but no longer attends services, said he supported the cardinal’s effort as well. “Everybody needs papers, needs to come back to Brazil, needs to see family,” he said. “I think it’s good.”

In the letter, dated Sunday but released earlier, O’Malley also wrote that bishops are focusing on reform that “guarantees a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented men, women, and children already in the United States. The status of those people — whose lives, dignity and human rights are at stake — is the central moral issue at this moment in the policy debates.”

In June, the Senate passed a wide-ranging, bipartisan bill that would, among other measures, provide a large swath of the people in the United States illegally with a path to citizenship.

The legislation has since languished in the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the GOP. House leaders have said they do not intend to take up the bill, preferring piecemeal, as opposed to a far-reaching reform of immigration laws.

After a weeks-long summer recess, members of the House are set to return to Washington, D.C., and meet in a formal session on Monday.

According to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the push for reform over the weekend included Masses and events highlighting immigration reform that took place from Los Angeles to Green Bay, Wis., to Miami.

The Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, the secretary for health and social services for the Archdiocese of Boston, explained that the effort was not meant as a decree.

“It’s important: What the bishops are doing is inviting their congregations to think about this issue,” Hehir said. “They’re not commanding them to take a single position.”

Hehir emphasized that the church has been populated by immigrants throughout its history.

“We basically are an immigrant church,” he said. “It’s estimated that nationally 30 percent of the Catholic Church is an immigrant population today.”

As for timing of the effort, Hehir said, while the church has pressed for immigration reform before, now “there’s an urgency to it, and there’s a sense of opportunity.”

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.
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