Tag Archives: immigrants

The Good Central American Samaritan

A sermon for the north for the fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C
Luke 10; 25-37

More than fifteen years ago, St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ames was planning to expand its offices and worship space. In the gathering space there was an empty two story wall. The committee decided to seek a local artist who was a parishioner to create a “Story Wall” – combing images of scripture and sacraments with the life of the parish.

Jo Myers-Walker took up the project, using clay images that were mounted on the wall. She sought input from many people and involved many parishioners in the project, some of whom make the clay that she fashioned into images.

One day I stopped by her studio and we talked about one image – the Good Samaritan.

Jo was going to portray me as the good Samaritan, knowing of my work with the poor and especially with the poor of El Salvador. No, I said. The Good Samaritan is the Central American.


All too often we fail to realize that the Good Samaritan was the outsider, the impure outsider. The pure priest and levite pass by – perhaps to preserve their ritual purity. But the Samaritan saw the man who fell among the robbers. He stopped and, moved with compassion, touched his wounds, and took him to a place of rest.

The Samaritans were looked down on by the Jewish leaders. They followed the Torah but didn’t worship in Jerusalem and had other customs. So, when Jesus made the Samaritan the example of what loving one’s neighbor means, he was shaking up the world of his followers.

The outsider heals the wounded – even if the wounded is the insider.

In my experience, the outcasts, the foreigners, the immigrants, have healed me and continue to help making me whole and holy. They make me realize that I need them. I cannot live and flourish without them, without their help that saves and cures me.

That is very clear for me here in Honduras. The poor almost always offer you something to eat. They have helped me repair my car when it’s broken down. They have even opened me to new understanding of scripture.

There are rumors that this weekend ICE will be making massive raids on immigrants, largely Central Americans, preparing to deport them.

And Catholics will be hearing the Gospel of the Good Samaritan at Mass. Will you make the connection?

I will not deliver this homily anywhere, but I wanted to share my reflections with the wider world.

Good news for the poor

Last Thursday I gave a presentation on Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium to those who will be going on mission in our parish in October. I had recently met with a group of confirmation catechists where I asked the catechists what is the meaning the word Gospel – evangelio in Spanish. She hemmed and hawed. And so I decided to talk about the word.

Gospel, Evangelio, means good news. But I think we always need to talk about the Good News of the Kingdom of God in the light of the bad news around us.

In today’s Gospel, Luke 4: 16-30, we find Jesus taking as his own mission the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring Good News to the poor.”

There’s lots of bad news – hurricane in Texas, land slide in Sierra Leone, deadly flooding in India and other south Asian countries. But there is also the threat to end a program, DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and place maybe 800,000 young immigrants in danger of deportation. These young people came to the US as minors, live in the US as good, law-abiding persons. Yet, they may be the latest victims of anti-immigrant sentiments that have no place in the lives of people of faith.

In the face of this, how will we followers of Christ be “Good News for the poor,” for the outcasts, the strangers, the despised and rejected?

I am far from the US at this point. I often try to persuade young people not to go to the US. But, as one said to me, “What does my country have to offer me?” But what can I do to help them see hope here? And what can any of us do to provide a place of love and safety for all God’s people.

Here’s the text of the Catholic bishops’ of Iowa to Iowa’s Congressional delegation

The Iowa Catholic Conference supports DACA youth. DACA youth are contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes. These young people entered the U.S. as children and know America as their only home. The dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and youth, must be protected.

Since 2012, nearly 800,000 of these young people have come forward, passed background checks, paid a fee, and received permission to live and work in America. With DACA they have advanced their education, started small businesses and more fully established themselves as integral members of our society.

We urge you to publicly support DACA youth here in Iowa. We also call upon you to move forward in a bipartisan manner and find a permanent legislative solution to ensure that DACA youth can remain in the United States and can continue to reach their God-given potential. One such existing proposal is the bipartisan DREAM Act of 2017, which we support. We promise to work with lawmakers from all parties to ensure that DACA youth are able to stay in this country and live without fear.

Lastly, to DACA youth and their families here in Iowa, we note the words of the USCCB Migration Committee Chair, Bishop Joe Vasquez: “Please know that the Catholic Church stands in solidarity with you. We recognize your intrinsic value as children of God. We understand the anxiety and fear you face and we appreciate and applaud the daily contributions you make with your families, to local communities and parishes, and to our country.”

Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque
Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City
Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines
Bishop Thomas Zinkula of Davenport


Fear of the other

Today’s first reading from Exodus (1: 8-14.22) reminded me of the politics of refugees and migrants which seems to be overtaking parts of Europe and the United States.

A new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt. He said to his people, “Look how numerous and powerful the people of the children of Israel are growing, more so than we ourselves! Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase; otherwise, in the event of war they too may join our enemies to fight against us, and so escape from our land.”

The fear of the “other” and the assumption that they are bent on our downfall are so ingrained in much of the public discourse that I wonder if there is something else going on. Rulers and powerful countries seem to be unsure of themselves and so anything different is a threat.

But most of all they forget the good things that the “other” has done and is doing, just as the new Pharaoh forget Joseph. They look at the negative, fearful of their own downfall. The attitude is that it is either “us” or “them.”

But where is God?

On the side of the other.

As we will hear later this week (Exodus 3) God hears their cries:

“The cry of the children of Israel has reached me, and I have truly noted that the Egyptians are oppressing them.”

Where are we?

God and aliens

Befriend the stranger.
Deuteronomy 8: 19 

So often the immigration debate is conducted in terms of issues of economics or security: what will these immigrants do to my standard of living? how will they affect my security?

On the other hand, advocates of immigrants often rely on an appeal to human rights, to the immigrants themselves. How can we deny these people a chance to live and seek a decent life?

But today’s reading from Deuteronomy 10: 12-22 moves the debate to an entirely different level: who is God for us?

After recalling how God had chosen his people in love, Moses tells the people not to be stiff-necked.


The Lord, your God … shows no favor and takes no bribes; … executes justice
for the orphan and the widow, and befriends the alien, feeding and clothing him.

This is the way God acts – befriending the aliens.

In one sense we are all aliens. We did not come into this world on our own. We do not live in this world solely by our powers.

We are, as another passage of scripture (1 Peter 2: 11) puts it, all aliens and strangers, sojourners on this earth.

But God befriends us and chooses us.

And so we are called to do the same:

 So you too must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.