National Migration Week 2013 will be held from January 6-12 with a primary theme of “We are Strangers No Longer: Our Journey of Hope Continues.” This year’s National Migration Week observance and theme commemorate the 10th anniversary of the historic joint pastoral letter of the United States and Mexico bishops conferences, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.
The observance of National Migration Week was begun over a quarter century ago by the Catholic Bishops to provide Catholics with an opportunity to celebrate the wide diversity in the Catholic Church and the contributions of immigrants and refugees.
The issue of immigration is deeply rooted in our Catholic Faith Tradition. The Bible can be seen as the story of the uprooted People of God seeking safety, sanctuary and refuge and the Living God giving directions for Welcoming the Stranger. From Adam and Eve, to Noah, Abraham and Moses, to Jesus, Joseph and Mary, all found themselves on the move, migrating, following their God, on the road to a better life. According to Matthew 25: 31f, our very salvation is based on our ability to, among other things, welcome the stranger.
Jesus’ history is rooted in the experience of a displaced people. Mary and Joseph had to return to their ancestral home for a census imposed by a world ruler. Jesus was born as his parents were “on the road”. The Holy Family flees to Egypt because of the threat of violence of Herod. They find refuge in an alien land and people. Later on, they find out that they cannot return to their familiar home of Bethlehem since the threat of a despot ruler continued. Thus, they are forced to settle in the north, in Nazareth. Can we imagine the stresses and strains they had to go through as they moved from one place to another?
Jesus’ experience of being born within a family who was hunted down to be destroyed is also the journey of Israel and ours. The Christmas story aligns Jesus from the beginning with the poor and the vulnerable—those who live in the “uncertainty” of each day. Those who have not place to call home. In the midst of our possessions and securities, sometimes, we forget that all of us are spiritual, not at home.
Here at the Kino Border Initiative, we see daily the human suffering that is the result of unjust economic policies and equally unfair immigration policies. In the year just completed, 2012, we served over 55,000 meals to migrants. All of these are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons, people driven from their homelands by oppression and poverty. Yet, when they leave our facilities (soup kitchen, clinic and shelter for women and children) they are most often grateful for the small help we are able to provide. Sometimes they even express that after a long and frightening journey, or after being caught in a worksite raid and deported, leaving families behind in the United States, that they experience Jesus, who shared in the flesh their migrant experience.
Our brothers and sisters in migration are only following the call to life that is in all of us. One does not sit idly by and watch one’s children starve. One gets up and does something about it. I have listened to many immigrants from Mexico and Central America tell me of the very difficult decision to leave everything that they know and love behind and set out on a journey that is very dangerous. If they succeed in crossing, they will live in difficult situations; work hard for low pay, while sending most of their earnings back home to family members. I find myself feeling great admiration for them, for their love of their family, for their courage to risk everything.
Dan Groody writes that the greatest migration story of all times is that our God migrated to earth in the person of Jesus, to give us an opportunity to one day migrate back to God.
May the stories and hardships of our immigrant brothers and sisters move us to take concrete steps on the immigration issues in our country! May we find ways to educate ourselves and others in order to stand up for the dignity of life of the members of our one family in God!