by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
This past Sunday (Jan. 15) was designated by Pope Francis as World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
Pope Francis in his message for the day observed: “The phenomenon of migration is not unrelated to salvation history, but rather a part of that history. One of God’s commandments is connected to it: ‘You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Ex 22:20); ‘Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt’ (Dt 10:19).”
Jesus taught his disciples that when they welcomed a stranger, they were in fact welcoming him (Mt 25: 31-41). Welcoming the stranger, the immigrant and the refugee is a corporal work of mercy. Jesus teaches us not to see strangers as threats to be feared, but brothers and sisters to be welcomed.
The theme selected by Pope Francis for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees was: “Children, the Vulnerable and the Voiceless.” The Holy Father noted: “Children are the first among those to pay the heavy toll of immigration, almost always caused by violence, poverty, environmental conditions, as well as the negative aspects of globalization.” Pope Francis wrote about the inalienable rights of children that include the right to a healthy and secure family environment, the right to education, the right to recreation and the right to be children.
The pope reminded the world: “[A]mong migrants, children constitute the most vulnerable group because, as they face the life ahead of them, they are invisible and voiceless: Their precarious situation deprives them of documentation, hiding them from the world’s eyes; the absence of adults to accompany them prevents their voices from being raised and heard. In this way, migrant children easily end up at the lowest levels of human degradation, where illegality and violence destroy the future of too many innocents.”
I am certain that Jesus, who was himself a child refugee, brought to Egypt by Joseph and Mary as a result of fleeing a tyrannical leader, has a special concern for migrant children. We must share Our Lord’s concern and advocate for generous and merciful U. S. immigration and refugee policies.
I am grateful to the staff of Catholic Charities who work so diligently to help resettle refugees into our metropolitan and Catholic community. Catholic Charities helps recent arrivals to find suitable housing, employment, health care and educational opportunities. Our New Roots urban farm allows refugees to use their knowledge as farmers, as well as to develop entrepreneurial and marketing skills that help them to provide for their families.
As part of our local observance of World Day of Migrants and Refugees, I celebrated a Mass at St. Patrick Church in Kansas City, Kansas. The church was almost full with participants from Spanish-speaking countries in Central and South America, Myanmar (Burma), Korea, Vietnam, etc. Afterwards, there was a reception featuring food from different continents.
Monday this past week we observed our national holiday, commemorating the heroic efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King to end discrimination and racism in our nation. This annual commemoration reminds us of what a single person can do to break down the walls of racism and bigotry that still afflict our American culture. It is a day for each of us to recommit ourselves to the task of ridding our society of all forms of racial bigotry and discrimination. It is a day that cautions us that if any human being is denied respect and dignity, all humanity is diminished and demeaned.
This coming Sunday marks the tragic 44th anniversary of the Supreme Court decisions that struck down every state statute prohibiting or regulating abortion, while essentially making abortion legal through all nine months of pregnancy. Almost 60 million American children have been killed by abortion since its legalization in 1973. More than a million abortions are performed each year, and more than 3,500 per day in the United States.
The Catholic Church’s efforts to advocate and serve refugees and migrants, to oppose racism and bigotry, and to defend human life in its earliest stages to its natural end, all derive from the same fundamental principle — the God-given dignity of each and every human person, no matter their age or stage of development, no matter their race or ethnicity, no matter where they were born.
If we want to know the value that God places on every human life, we need only gaze upon a crucifix. Our faith, as Christians, is that each and every human life in the eyes of God is of such value and worth that a God died for us. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, did in fact undergo the most cruel and brutal of human deaths so that we might receive mercy, so that we might share in eternal life.
Racism, sexism and all forms of human bigotry and prejudice are not only crimes against other human beings, but sins against God. In denying or diminishing the dignity of any human being, we disrespect the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary — God’s ultimate statement on the worth of each and every human life.
As Catholics, we have a responsibility to be a voice for the voiceless, to protect the vulnerable that cannot properly defend themselves — whether it is the refugee fleeing persecution and violence, the victims of racial discrimination and bigotry, the unborn child threatened by abortion or the elderly or disabled whose lives are deemed as worthless.
Wherever the life and dignity of the human person are threatened, we must come to their defense with compassion and courage.