“I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.”
“Migration is, more than anything, an act of great hope. Our brothers and sisters who are forced to migrate suffer devastating family separation and most often face dire economic conditions to the point they cannot maintain a very basic level of living. Refugees flee their countries due to war and persecution which inspires them to risk everything for an opportunity to live in peace. As Catholics in the United States, most of us can find stories in our own families of … leaving the old country for the promise of America…. Let us remind ourselves of those moments when our loved ones were forced to seek the mercy of others in a new land.” (Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Archbishop José H. Gomez, USCCB, Jan 2017)
“I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.”
Reflection on the call to treat migrants and refugees as Christ, a post from the public Facebook page of Fr. James Martin, SJ.
The post was written before the issuance of the President Trump executive order on Jan 25th but addressing two of the elements included in it.
The executive order issued on Jan 25th among other things:
- suspends refugee resettlement for the next 120 days and all refugees from Syria from coming to the United States, decreases the total number of refugees who can come to the United States in 2017 to 50,000 from 110,000, and bans individuals from seven countries from entering the United States for 90 days;
- takes steps to build the wall on the U.S./Mexico border and calls for the mass expansion of immigrant detention facilities;
- deputizes state and local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws and withholds funding from sanctuary cities.
“These measures, which mean the rejection of the stranger, the rejection of the person in need, the rejection of those who suffer, are manifestly un-Christian and utterly contrary to the Gospel. Indeed, last year, Pope Francis said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel.”
But maybe you don’t want to listen to Pope Francis. Maybe you think that he was being too political. Or maybe you think Pope Francis is too progressive for you.
Maybe you think that you have a right to refuse a person in need. And that you have the right to protect yourself. Well, we do have the right of self-protection. But refusing the one in need because you want to protect yourself, especially when the other is in desperate need and obvious danger, is not what Christianity is about. It’s about the opposite. It’s about helping the stranger, even if it carries some risk. That’s the Parable of the Good Samaritan in a nutshell.
But if you still don’t want to listen to Pope Francis, then listen to Pope John Paul II, St. John Paul II, who wrote dozens of times about refugees and migrants. “Seek to help our brother and sister refugees in every possible way by providing a welcome…Show them an open mind and a warm heart,” he said. And as if predicting our current situation, he said, “It is necessary to guard against the rise of new forms of racism or xenophobic behavior, which attempt to make these brothers and sisters of ours scapegoats for what may be difficult local situations.”
For this is an issue of life or death. Migrants flee from profound poverty, which causes suffering and can lead to death. Refugees flee from persecution, terror and war, out of fear for their lives. This is, then, one of the church’s life issues, so dear to St. John Paul II.
But maybe you don’t want to listen to St. John Paul….Then listen to the voice of God in the Book of Exodus, speaking to the people of Israel: “You shall not oppress the resident alien [i.e, the refugee] for you were aliens yourselves once, in the land of Egypt.” Every American heart should be stirred by that. Other than the Native Americans, all of us are descendants of immigrants. We were aliens ourselves once.
But maybe you don’t want to listen to the Old Testament. Then, in the end, listen to Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, he provides a litmus test for entrance into heaven. At the Last Judgment, he will say to people, “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” And people will say, “When were you a stranger and we did not take care of you?’ And he will say, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
Jesus himself is speaking to you from the Gospels. It is Christ whom we turn away when we build walls. It is Christ whom we reject when we slash quotas for refugees. It is Christ whom we are killing, by letting them die in poverty and war rather than opening our doors.
“Today,” St. John Paul II said, “the illegal migrant comes before us like that ‘stranger’ in whom Jesus asks to be recognized. To welcome him and to show him solidarity is a duty of hospitality and fidelity to Christian identity itself.”
So, reject these measures and welcome Christ. Call your local legislators and tell them to care for Christ. Write to the White House and ask them to protect Christ. Show up at town hall meetings and advocate for Christ. And pray for our brothers and sisters who are refugees and migrants. Because if you do not, and you reject Christ, then it is their prayers that you will need.”
“We cannot deny the humanitarian crisis which in recent years has meant migration for thousands of people….This crisis, which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want instead to measure with names, stories, families.” (Pope Francis, Feb. 2017)
Statements of Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, Chair of the USCCB Committee On Migration
On his opposition to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and increase detention and deportation forces (January 25, 2017)
In response to the decision to build a wall on the U.S./Mexico border, Bishop Joe Vasquez stated:
“I am disheartened that the President has prioritized building a wall on our border with Mexico. This action will put immigrant lives needlessly in harm’s way. Construction of such a wall will only make migrants, especially vulnerable women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers. Additionally, the construction of such a wall destabilizes the many vibrant and beautifully interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border. Instead of building walls, at this time, my brother bishops and I will continue to follow the example of Pope Francis. We will “look to build bridges between people, bridges that allow us to break down the walls of exclusion and exploitation.'”
In regards to the announcement of the planned surge in immigrant detention and deportation forces, Bishop Vasquez added:
“The announced increase in immigrant detention space and immigration enforcement activities is alarming. It will tear families apart and spark fear and panic in communities. While we respect the right of our federal government to control our borders and ensure security for all Americans, we do not believe that a large scale escalation of immigrant detention and intensive increased use of enforcement in immigrant communities is the way to achieve those goals. Instead, we remain firm in our commitment to comprehensive, compassionate, and common-sense reform. We fear that the policies announced today will make it much more difficult for the vulnerable to access protection in our country. Everyday my brother bishops and I witness the harmful effects of immigrant detention in our ministries. We experience the pain of severed families that struggle to maintain a semblance of normal family life. We see traumatized children in our schools and in our churches. The policies announced today will only further upend immigrant families.”
Bishop Vasquez noted: “We will continue to support and stand in solidarity with immigrant families. We remind our communities and our nation that these families have intrinsic value as children of God. And to all those impacted by today’s decision, we are here to walk with you and accompany you on this journey.”
On the “Travel Ban Executive Order” (Feb 4, 2017)
Since taking on this new responsibility (elected chair of the Committee on Migration), I have become more aware of the need for immigration reform. I fully support a comprehensive reform that will strenghten the security of Americans, without losing sight of those feeing violence and conflict in various regions of the world. I support reform that is safe for refugees and for the communities that welcome them.
Unfortunately, the President’s recent Executive order on refugee resettlement falls short as it hurts those who need help. The United States has long provided leadership in resettling refugees. Today, with more than 65 million people from around the world being forcibly displaced from their homes, there is an urgent need to assist refugees and provide freedom from persecution.
People of goodwill, especially those in government leadership should ensure that refugees, regardless of their religious belief, are compassionately welcomed without sacrificing our security or values as Americans. These refugees are the very ones Jesus referred to as the least of our brothers and sisters among us. They, too, are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity.
Update on the “Travel Ban Executive Order” (Feb 10, 2017)
On February 9, 2017, a three judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a unanimous decision upholding a lower court’s temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking the implementation of several key provisions of Executive Order 13769 regarding refugee resettlement and admission from certain countries.
In response to the Appeals Court ruling, Bishop Joe Vasquez stated: “We welcome the decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. We respect the rule of law and the American judicial process. We remain steadfast in our commitment to resettling refugees and all those fleeing persecution. At this time, we remain particularly dedicated to ensuring that affected refugee and immigrant families are not separated and that they continue to be welcomed to our country. We will continue to welcome the newcomer as it is a vital part of our Catholic faith and an enduring element of our American values and tradition.”
No people are criminal and no religion is terrorist. Christian terrorism does not exist, Jewish terrorism does not exist, and Muslim terrorism does not exist. They do not exist. No people are criminal or drug-trafficking or violent. The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence yet, without equal opportunities, the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and will eventually explode. There are fundamentalist and violent individuals in all peoples and religions—and with intolerant generalizations they become stronger because they feed on hate and xenophobia. By confronting terror with love, we work for peace. (Pope Francis, Feb 2017)
What Can You Do
Pray for all immigrants forced to leave their country because of the conditions there, especially children and families; for God’s protection to all refugees and displaced persons fleeing violence and persecution; and for those seeking safety in the United States that we may welcome them.
Attend an Ecumenical Prayer Vigil for the safety of citizens and residents, refugees, exiles and immigrants in the USA on Sunday March 5th from 6-7 pm at Sta. Teresa’s Catholic Church (1212 Lucky St.) in Bryan.
Advocate: Your voice makes a difference! Contact your representatives at the federal and state levels and advocate for the voiceless; for global issues visit www.confrontglobalpoverty.org, for national issues visit www.justiceforimmigrants.org, for state legislations visit www.txcatholic.org.
Support the important work the Church is doing to help r through the National Catholic Migration Fund (www.usccb.org/about/migration-and-refugee-services), oCatholic Relief Services (www.crs.org), or Catholic Charities (www.catholiccharitiesusa.org).