Tag Archives: refugees

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?

Saint Alban and World Refugee Day

June 20 is the feast of Saint Alban, an early English martyr. He is also the patron saint of refugees.

He was living in Briton when a Christian priest appeared on his doorstep, fleeing from persecution. He was very impressed by the prayer and holiness of the priest and received instruction from him. The local authorities began to suspect that Alban was harboring a Christian and searched his house. Alban had helped the priest to escape and had put on the priest’s clothes.

Alban was arrested and when his real identity was known he refused to renounce the Christian faith and was subsequently tortured and martyred.

But it all started with welcoming a stranger.

May we follow the example of Saint Alban – even risking imprisonment and death to save the refugees.

Today let us pray especially for the Chaldean Catholics arrested in Detroit who face deportation to a situation of intense violence and persecution.

Saint Albam, pray for them and for us.



Like those in flight

… you shall eat
like those who are in flight.
Exodus 12: 11
(Douai Rheims translation)

 The instructions for the meal waiting for deliverance from slavery in Egypt were very clear. They were instructions for those who would soon flee.

Today I think of all those who are in flight in our world.

Those fleeing the poverty, unemployment, and violence in their home countries in Central America, looking for a better life.

Those fleeing the war and violence in the Middle East and Africa.

Those women and children fleeing situations of domestic violence.

Those fleeing the effects of floods and other disasters in nature.

Those fleeing persecution for speaking out for their rights and the rights of others.

Those trying to fleeing from prostitution or enslavement brought about by human traffickers.

The message of the Exodus is that their cries reach up to God.

But do their cries reach our ears?

Jesus – a refugee

Jesus was a refugee.
He had to flee to save his life.
He was a refugee.
Pope Francis, 19 June 2014

 Today is World Refugee Day, when the world remembers the innumerable refugees in the world – some who have fled war and violence, others who are fleeing oppression and persecution, some who are trying to get away from the poverty that afflicts them and their daily lives.

I have known a number of refugees when I was in the US – refugees from Poland, Sudan, Ethiopia, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

One Guatemalan lived with me for seven months while awaiting acceptance into Canada. At that time, his chances of getting acceptance as a refugee in the US were nearly impossible – this despite having been imprisoned and maltreated by the Guatemalan military.

I have been recently hearing about the fate of children being held in detention in the United States. They had gone to the US for many reasons, risking their lives in the passage through Mexico.

If you want to get an idea of what this means read Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario. Although this was written in 2006, when the journey was not as dangerous as it is today, it gives an idea of the experiences of those who seek to go to the US.

All this points to the need for a real change in US immigration policy. I don’t have any specifics on how to do this, though one might look at what the US Catholic Conference and other religious groups are advocating.

But what strikes me is the reason why today was chosen as world refugee day.

In the Anglican Communion, today is the feast of the first British martyr, St. Alban, who was killed in either the mid-third or the early fourth century.

A Roman citizen living in Britain, he gave refugee to a Christian priest who was being sought by the authorities. He was so moved by the priest that he was baptized.

But soon the authorities came to take away the priest. Alban, though, had changed his clothes with the priest and so was taken, tired, and beheaded.

He had put himself in the place of the refugee priest. He had given his life to protect another person.

St. Alban is an example of what we might do – take in the stranger and offer ourselves to save their lives.


Random birthday thoughts

Sixty-five years young today. My prayer and reading this morning has awakened in me a wide range of thoughts, filled with gratitude.

Here are a few thoughts, randomly chosen:

The reading, 1 Timothy 6: 7-8, for Vigils from  Benedictine Daily Prayer was most fitting:

…we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with there.

I am content here in Honduras. Though I have much more than most Hondurans, what I really need I have – a ministry I love, people whom I love and respect and who love me, enough food and more than enough clothing, and now Social Security checks!

Today the feast of Saint Justin, patron of philosophers. He was probably the first who sought to bring together faith and philosophical reason. He seems to have been very open to the possibility that God saves all those who seek the Truth. In his  Apology,  he wrote:

We have been taught that Christ is the First-begotten of God, and have previously testified that he is the Reason [Logos] of which every race of humans partakes. Those who lived in accordance with Reason are Christians, even though they were called godless, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus and others like them.

Does this sound a bit like Karl Rahner’s notion of “anonymous Christians”?

Justin was born of Greek parents in what is today Nablus, in Palestine. I cannot help remembering my visit to Palestine and Israel years ago and the great affection I feel for the Palestinians, matched with the great concern I have had for many years about the failure of the institutional Church and many Catholics to stand up strongly and with courage against the Nazis when the Jews were being deported and killed. Yes, there were many individuals but the public institutional witness was weak – or almost non-existent.

The first reading for the feast of St. Justin is 1 Corinthians 1, 17-25, which ends with a phrase that has struck me for many years, and even more so here in Honduras:

the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

If anyone has been reading what I’ve been writing recently, this theme is a theme that has become central to my understanding of God and the world: God uses the wisdom of the poor to confound the intellectuals and those who think they know it all; God’s strength is made perfect in the weakness of the poor, who, in Mary’s words, “casts down the mighty from their thrones and raises up the lowly.”

Speaking of the lowly, today is also the feast of Blessed John Baptist Scalabrini, founder of the Scalabrini priests and sisters whose major ministry is to migrants.  He lived for 1839 to 1905. An Italian  bishop he was moved by the many Italians leaving for the US and other places and began many efforts to assist them. He even visited the US in 1901 where he met with President Theodore Roosevelt where he spoke about the injustices against Italian immigrants and defended them.  How much we still need people like him to defend immigrants.

Today is also the anniversary of the burning at the stake in 1310 of Marguerite Porette. She was a member of the Beguines, groups of women who led a community life of prayer and charity, without religious vows.  They were mostly in Belgium and the Netherlands where you can still encounter the beguinajes where they lived. She was tried by the Inquisition, which was threatened by her writings, claiming that her spirituality set aside the church in favor of direct communication with God.  Two years after her death, the church formally suppressed the movement. (This account is taken from Robert Ellsberg’s  All Saints.)

Today, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, castigated by the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (the successor of the Inquisition), released a statement about their response, noting

The board members raised concerns about both the content of the doctrinal assessment and the process by which it was prepared.  Board members concluded that the assessment was based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency. Moreover, the sanctions imposed were disproportionate to the concerns raised and could compromise their ability to fulfill their mission. The report has furthermore caused scandal and pain throughout the church community, and created greater polarization.

A press release with a link to their statement can be found here.

I am blessed to know the current president of LCWR, Dubuque Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell, a woman devoted to Christ and the poor, who spent many years in mission in Latin America (Chile and El Salvador) during perilous and dangerous times. May God give her strength in this new challenge.

These are the thoughts I will carry with me today as I go first to the Dulce Nombre  parish for the meeting of the leaders of the liturgical ministry in the villages. Then I’ll come back to Santa Rosa to Caritas, where one of the programs is being evaluated. I’ll probably treat myself to pizza tonight.

God is good.

Gracias a Dios.