In November 2000 the U.S. Catholic bishops published “Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity” The document states, “The presence of so many people of so many different cultures and religions in so many different parts of the United States has challenged us as a Church to a profound conversion so that we can become truly a sacrament of unity. We reject the anti-immigrant stance that has become popular in different parts of our country, and the nativism, ethnocentricity, and racism that continue to reassert themselves in our communities.”
That was nearly nineteen years ago and still many in my parish community consider immigrants as dangerous and undeserving and unwanted. Seldom, if ever, does any message come from the pulpit in regards to welcoming the stranger among us. Rarely is there any acknowledgment of the crisis at our southern border and our responsibility as Catholic Christians to open our hearts and minds to our sisters and brothers. Our clergy often preaches that we should be pro-life but usually that only means pro-birth. Caring for those already born seems to be less important. Welcoming those fleeing for their very lives is apparently too messy to deal with, let alone to even preach about.
Of course, some in our Church have taken a stance against the immigration policies of the current administration. In January of this year Cardinal Tobin stated,“These men, women and children are neither numbers, nor criminal statistics, but flesh and blood people with their own stories and histories. Most are fleeing human misery and brutal violence that threatens their lives. False and fear-filled caricatures seek to provoke a sort of amnesia that would have this great nation deny our roots in immigrants and refugees.”
And much good has come from the service of religious and lay volunteers at our southern border; offering respite and hope to those fleeing violence and persecution.
Still my parish priests remain mostly silent on this issue. This past weekend at Mass the silence was nearly deafening. The shooting and killing of innocent people in El Paso, Texas was not even mentioned. The hate and fear espoused by our current administration and echoed in the manifesto written by the domestic terrorist seems to be conveniently ignored by the politically conservative in our clergy. No prayers were offered for the victims of the mass shootings or their families. Instead we heard a homily about vanity and curbing our social media usage. Hollow words in light of the horrific events in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton.
Fortunately, I have great friends and spiritual advisers who understand that God’s love for us is indeed for ALL OF US. They are examples of unconditional love. They are models of true Christianity. I find hope and strength in their presence. Their actions speak louder than words. And their songs fill my heart.
In his book “Eight Whopping Lies” Brian Doyle writes, “There are two Catholic Churches, one a noun the other a verb, one a corporation and the other a wild idea held in the hearts of millions of people who are utterly disinterested in authority and rules and regulations, and very interested indeed in finding ways to walk through the bruises of life with grace and humility.”
I belong to the “verb” Church. It’s time to make some noise; to demand realistic gun control legislation; to welcome strangers. And to comfort those wounded by the words and actions of those in power.