The Visitor

After evening prayer last night, several of us directors went up to the lounge and watched The Visitor, a 2007 film I had never even heard of, let alone seen before.  Although I almost didn’t join them, I’m glad I watched it.

The life of a late middle aged professor (a lonely widow who has been emotionally all but dead for a long time) changes dramatically when he returns to his New York City apartment – a place he has not visited in a number of years – and finds a couple living there: a Syrian man and his Senegalese girlfriend.  Initially appalled to find them there, he becomes friends with the man, who teaches him to play the drums.  All is fine until the man, an illegal immigrant, is arrested and sent to a deportation center.  Ultimately he is deported.  Along the way the professor develops a friendship with the man’s mother (with the promise of something deeper), who at the end flies to Syria to be with her son, knowing it means she will never return to the United States.

The film powerfully explores issues of immigration and cross-cultural encounter and communication, as well as the struggle of a man to discover a deeper identity and more meaningful life.

I recognize the difficulties of “fixing” the immigration problem in this country and make no claims to any answers.  Neither does the film suggest any solution.  What it does do is put faces and lives on the “illegal immigrant” while also giving a window into the often unfair treatment of them in detention.  And whatever else our policy is, it ought to include decency in how we treat those who are detained.

One of Pope Francis’ two prayer intentions for the month of June is immigrants and refugees: “That immigrants and refugees may find welcome and respect in the countries to which they come.

May it be so!

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

Today the Catholic Chuch celebrates the memorial of the woman named by Pope Pius XII as the patroness of immigrants, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first United States citizen to be canonized.

Mother Cabrini, as she is often called, was an immigrant to the United States from Italy, although her actual desire was to bring the Gospel to China. She was urged by the bishop of Piacenza that she was more needed in the U.S. given the large number of poor Italian emigrants to the U.S. who had no one to tend to their welfare. She and her sisters settled first settled in New York in 1889, where they taught children and cared for the physical and spiritual needs of the Italian immigrant population. Over time, more of Mother Cabrini’s sisters came from Italy and their work spread across the United States. She herself traveled widely both in the U.S. and in Central and South America.

In Blessed Among All Women, Robert Ellsberg describes Mother Cabrini as never having mastered the English language and being small and unimposing in stature. But, he says, “her indomitable will, her inexhaustible energy, and her willingness to face any challenge made her an irresistible force.”

In the Opening Prayer for today’s Mass, we pray,

God our Father,
you called Frances Xavier Cabrini from Italy
to serve the immigrants of America.
By her example teach us concern for the stranger,
the sick, and the frustrated.
By her prayers help us to see Christ
in all the men and women we meet.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Amen.