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!
Immigration has been a large topic of public debate in recent times. Almost everyone believes we need some kind of immigration reform, although there is vast disagreement on what that should look like.
I’m not interested here in taking a position on the specifics of what immigration reform should look like. But I do believe that we need to acknowledge that Christians have an obligation to think about the question in a way different from the way the secular world looks at it. In their 2003 letter, Strangers No Longer, the bishops of the U.S. and Mexico reminded us that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were immigrants in Egypt, something Richard Rohr has accused many Christians of forgetting and ignoring. In Contemplation and Action, Rohr wrote:
A Christian by identification with Jesus must by necessity identify with those that he called “blessed” by at least four different standards (Matthew 5:3-6, 10). He told us that if we did not “welcome the stranger” we were “cursed” (Matthew 25:40), and yet, this has had almost no effect on the typical Christian’s attitude toward outsiders in almost all countries.
I have little patience with people who call the USA a Christian nation when I see our attitude toward the very poor who are doing all the hard jobs that we are unwilling to do. Such self serving hypocrisy will meet a firm judgment later, and deserves our judgment now.
Again, my point is not that one proposal or another is of necessity one that all Christians must agree on. But we do have to make sure that our thinking about immigration policy reflects Jesus’ command to welcome the stranger and that when we look at our immigrant brothers and sisters, the face we see is that of Jesus.
The Justice for Immigrants Campaign of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has asked Catholic parishes around the country to pray as one at Eucharistic celebrations this weekend for fair and just immigration reform. This is not about advocating a particular proposal, but about recognizing the critical importance of ensuring that Catholic values are an essential component of the ongoing dialogue surrounding the issue of immigration reform in this country.
“This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) As Christians, we are people of love. Can others see how we love one another? Do they know we are Jesus’ disciples by the way we love immigrants? How we treat our immigrant brothers and sisters speaks volumes of who we are and who we wish to be.
Let us pray together this weekend for immigrants and their suffering, for their needs and their hopes. And let us pray that we achieve fair and just reform of a system that is sorely in need of of fixing. The MSP Office for Social Justice has drafted some suggested petitions for Masses this weekend. You might consider including them in your own prayers.
For the immigrants, migrants, refugees and all people on the move, that they may find hope and safe haven, remain true to their rich traditions and heritage, and help to build harmonious communities wherever they live.
For all organizations dedicated to assisting refugees, migrants and other vulnerable populations, may their mission bring about justice and reflect God’s infinite love.
For our elected officials, that they may find the wisdom and courage to help reform our broken immigration system, so that the basic human dignity of all persons is protected and that immigrant families are able to remain together.
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.