I woke up this morning to a promising Washington Post headline. It read: “Pope Urges Europe’s Catholics to take in Syrian refugees.” There he goes again, I thought.
The article described how Pope Francis “has called on ‘every’ parish, religious community, monastery and sanctuary to take in one refugee family – an appeal that, if honored, would offer shelter to tens of thousands.”
Of course the vast majority of such migrants are “illegal” in the eyes of governments where the invited parishes, etc. are located.
The pope implied that Jesus’ attitude towards “the stranger” overrides such legislation. The Master’s words in MT 25:35 have him identifying with immigrants (and the hungry, naked, homeless, and imprisoned) and basing the entire final judgment on the way we treat such people. He says: “. . . I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,”
The pope’s appeal comes at a time when immigration along with climate change is a hotly contested issue not only in Europe, but here in the United States.
Of course, the entire panoply of Republican candidates (including the six of them who claim to be “devout Catholics”) consists not only of climate change deniers, but of candidates trying to outdo one another on the issue of excluding immigrants from our borders. Catholic candidates include Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Marco Rubio and George Pataki. Now they specifically diverge from the Pope not just on climate change, but on immigration as well.
Just yesterday, another ardent Christian, Sarah Palin, brought climate change and immigration together in typical GOP fashion. She told CNN that refugees from Mexico not only “better be legal,” but should be made to speak “American,” rather than “Mexican.” She sides with Donald Trump’s plan to build an exclusionary wall along the border. She also aspires to be Mr. Trump’s Secretary of Energy – a position she would embrace enthusiastically “because energy is my baby – oil and gas and minerals, those things that God has dumped on this part of the Earth for mankind’s use. . .”
Of course, Pope Francis words yesterday put him on the side of immigrants and against exclusionists. He invites his flock of 1.2 billion to follow suit. He also expressly rejects Palin’s reading of God’s mind about why the Creator “dumped” gas, oil, and minerals on Earth.
According to his eco-encyclical, Laudato Si’, using the narratives of Genesis to encourage “the unbridled exploitation of nature” is an incorrect interpretation of the Bible (67). “Clearly,” the pope adds, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism that would encourage the “drill, baby, drill” approach regardless of its effects on the planet (68).
But the pope’s words about welcoming immigrants struck even closer to home. For years I’ve been wondering what it might take to awaken Catholics to the revolutionary power of the Gospel.
In my own Catholic parish, we find ourselves mired in a detached, decontextualized version of faith that ignores the world’s real problems.
Pope Francis represents the exact opposite trend. Yet despite his invitation to “change everything” issued in The Joy of the Gospel nearly two years ago, and in spite of the urgency of Laudato Si’, nothing at our local level changes.
Yesterday’s papal invitation shows us how to get off the dime. He suggests something practical for every parish to do: welcome at least one immigrant family from the detention centers on our own borders. House and feed them. Be a prophetic example to the exclusionists. Join with other (non-Catholic) churches to do the same.
The infrastructure is there: churches that are used for just a few hours each week, parish basements and halls that are similarly idle most of the time. Also, many of us have space in our own homes – or own second houses – that might similarly provide housing for Jesus presenting himself to us as an immigrant.
Our little parish of St. Clare in Berea, Kentucky has a Peace and Social Justice Committee of 20 highly committed people. We’re meeting next Sunday to plan our gala “Watch Party” on September 27th to see the Pope’s address our Congress and the U.N.
Now in the light of the pope’s invitation to open our buildings to immigrant families, we have something else to discuss and act upon.
Accepting Pope Francis’ invitation could move our parish to truly begin “changing everything.”
Can you imagine what would happen, if the families we accepted were Muslim instead of Christian?
Thank you, Pope Francis.