By Br. Warren Perrotto, MSC
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe
I recently saw a three-part PBS documentary, The United States and the Holocaust. It is about how the United States responded to the crisis of the Jewish genocide. The documentary reviews the role of the United States during WWII and its discriminatory immigration policy which prevented entry into the U.S. of Jews escaping the inhumane suffering the Third Reich inflicted upon them. At that time, and today, antisemitism is still strong among some Americans. Regrettably, in its extreme form, some U.S. citizens believe that the killing of millions of Jews was a mere hoax. I am a witness to this fact. Furthermore, in the discussion of Jewish immigration, some people publicly but falsely believed that the goal of the Jews was to establish a Jewish dynasty.
Rejecting persons from entering the U.S. is not something new in the U.S. There is a long history against certain groups entering our borders. For example, in the 19th century, the Nativists pushed for the blocking of Jews, Blacks, and Catholics from entering the U.S. The KKK followed with the same sentiments. Sorry to say, our country sometimes ignores the Lady’s words at the bottom of her statue.
Sadly, the United Nation’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that over 100 million persons were displaced in May this year. This number has increased from 89.3 million in 2021.2 Displaced persons, refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers share similar everyday struggles. They want to escape unbearable, indiscriminate violence and oppression. They want to discover freedom from the ravages of war, environmental changes, natural disasters, political upheavals and social pressure. They run away from criminal, religious, and other inhumane practices imposed upon them by those seeking power and control over their lives. They seek places of peace, shelter, and security to live constructive and productive lives as human beings. Today, international migration is more extensive than domestic migration.
The groups mentioned above are in the limelight of a public discussion in the United States. They are people of different nations, races, nationalities, languages, and cultures. As a result, these people remain at the forefront of whether the U.S. should accept or reject them from entering its borders. On the one hand, many support keeping open-border policies and cite the advantages of maintaining openness for immigrants, refugees, etc. On the other hand, no small number oppose open-borders strategies. They frequently mention the disadvantages of accepting refugees, e.g., fear of criminal behaviour.3 Many of these persons may have different religious and cultural diversities and economic perspectives. Many of them come from displaced and divided families. It is an increasingly complex problem.
Random, violent conflicts and criminal actions among civil, political, economic, or religious groups seeking power will inevitably generate innocent victims who seek places of peace, shelter, and security to live their everyday lives as human beings. Unfortunately, some, e.g., victims of human trafficking, are falsely offered a healthier and improved life. Thus, they leave their homelands and are forced into taking and selling drugs or prostitution. Escaping such environments is very difficult. In time they may succumb to overdoses of drugs or be murdered.
These present realities are challenging for us to readily respond by our vocation as Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and the Jules Chevalier Family. It is one more sign of the times which asks us to respond to the current immigration crisis in light of Jesus Good News of salvation. Therefore, a criterion for action is to follow this maxim: No one is a stranger! In the Church, no one is a stranger. Undeniably, “Christian love is prevenient by its very nature. This is why single believers are called to open their arms and their hearts to every person whatever nation they come from…“4
We see in the Old Testament how the Chosen People were migrants, refugees and asylum seekers. God called Abraham from his homeland (Ur of the Chaldeans) to begin the arduous task of moving into the Land of Canaan. While in Egypt, he and his household were banished by Pharoah. In Egypt, the Patriarch Joseph was sold into slavery and was forced to migrate to Egypt. Fortunately, through the grace of God, he was put in charge of Pharoah’s palace and was able to welcome his family and followers to return to Egypt for safe living and to be free from starvation.5 God speaks directly to Israel, “You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt…You shall love your neighbor as yourself…When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you. You shall love the alien as yourself.“6 At harvest time, the Israelites could not strip their vineyards bare nor collect grapes that had fallen. These leftovers were for the poor and aliens.7 Thus, God has no favorites; he shows no partiality to favor one over another because the person is of a different race, nation, culture, creed, or language. God summons us to “befriend the alien.”
The witness of Christ attests to and confirms the status of the displaced migrants and refugees. The Holy Family was also a displaced family. They had to migrate from Bethlehem to a foreign land. They settled in Egypt until the death of Herod. From Egypt, they moved to Nazareth.8 Jesus had no place to lay his head. “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry for fear they may collapse on the way.“9 Jesus teaches us how to respond to displaced migrants and refugees, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.“10 What more proof is there for befriending the foreigner than is shown in the Parable of the Good Samaritan?11 In this, the love of God witnesses to a proper relationship between a national and a stranger. No one is a stranger. A Samaritan, the Good Samaritan, attended to the victim’s wounds after a Levite and priest walked by doing nothing. The Good Samaritan additionally paid for the victim’s care. The moral message that this parable significantly conveys is that no one person can regard oneself as better than another human being. One cannot ignore a person’s dignity and value, loved by God and created in God’s image and likeness.12 We must realize that for Jesus, we are neighbors without borders. Jesus’ whole life extends His human love through compassion and mercy, which extends to all persons. Pope Francis asserts, “Today we have a great opportunity to express our innate sense of fraternity to be Good Samaritans who bear the pain of other people’s troubles rather than fomenting greater hatred and resentment.”13
Jules Chevalier writes, “If we follow our Lord in his public life, we see his Heart pour itself out on every sort of misfortune, on every sort of misery, moral and physical.”14 Jesus identifies the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful and those persecuted as “blessed.” His heart reaches out to those not accepted and calls for reconciliation among enemies. Instead of condemning, His compassionate Heart brings forth forgiveness.
While the U.S. Government must take precautions to avoid granting legal status to terrorists, etc., our government must avoid causing deserving applications to be denied or detained for a lengthy time. Nevertheless, Galatians 3:28 places us in the correct framework. There is no Jew nor Gentile. We are a Migrant and Pilgrim Church. Similar to the Israelites, the Church has been on a journey since its origin. United as one, we make up a wide variety of persons from different cultures, with differing personalities, and lifestyles. Each has his or her unique task to be in solidarity with one another, with Christ as our leader. Indeed, many Americans have their historical roots outside our borders. We are all in some sense spiritual refugees seeking our homeland.
Fr. Chevalier wrote in 1897, In the (MSC) Society, no one is a stranger, no one a foreigner, but all are brothers (and sisters) in the Heart of Christ.15 His vision of making the Heart of Christ loved everywhere opens the door for all creation to experience the love of God.
- Words at the base of the Statue of Liberty, NY
- UN News. ‘UNHCR: A Record 100 Million People Forcibly Displaced Worldwide’, 22 May 2022. https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/05/1118772.
- C.f. Louise Gaille,. ‘21 Big Pros and Cons of Immigration’. Accessed 4 October 2022.
- Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Particpants in the Plenarey Assembly of Migrants and Itinerants, May 25, 2006.
- Cf. Genesis 1-6; 37-45
- Exodus 22:21-22; Leviticus 19:18, 33-34
- Cf. Leviticus 19:10
- See Sr Merle I. Salazar, FDNSC, “Jesus and Borders: How Did Jesus Deal with Borders,” Talk at the International
Chevalier Lay Members, Conference Santodomingo, Dominican Republic, 2009.
- Matthew 16:32
- Matthew 25:35ff
- 11 Cf. Luke 10:30-37
- Cf. Pope Francis I, Fratelli Tutti, (FT), October 3, 2020, Nos. 171. https://ww.vatican.va/content/
- FT, 77.
- Jules Chevalier, MSC, Sacred Heart, p. 9
- MSC Constitutions, Rome, Genral House Revised Edition General Chapter, 2005 p.20.