In Preparation for Catholic Migration Week, “Many Journeys, One Family”
January 7-13, 2018
Saint Vincent de Paul’s Parish
Germantown, Philadelphia

The Migrant: a Promise of Life for the Future

This is the way Pope Francis referred to migrants last October 26th. Speaking to young people, he reminded them that the invitation to welcome the stranger was not made by the Pope, “but by someone much more important than myself.” In this reflection, we remember how “the One much more important than Francis” commands us to deal with migrants in the Judeo-Christian scriptures. We engage with revelation not as an abstract idea, but as God’s involvement in human history.

The Old Testament recognizes the actual displacement of the Jewish people and their extreme vulnerability as guests in a foreign land. In fact, the Book of Exodus anticipates the history of salvation, in which God leads the Hebrews out of Egypt: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Deut 5:6). The liberating God will remind the people often that they must show compassion to migrants, frequently adding that they were once in the same predicament. The word ger, loosely translated as foreign resident, occurs 92 times in the Old Testament. Many times migrants are mentioned along with widows and orphans, like in one of King David’s songs: “The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin” (Ps 146:9).

If hospitality and kindness were the norm for treating the foreigner in the name of justice, in the New Testament hospitality means openness to salvation, to radical grace. First, Jesus is identified as a refugee in Egypt (Matt 2:13-23), and later, as an adult, he is a homeless, wandering person: Foxes have their holes, the birds their roosts; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head (Matt 8:20). This is quite a change. Now “the stranger” is no other than “the One much more important than Francis,” the Son of God. To embrace him as “a stranger” brings about huge rewards, “a promise of life.” The parable of the Good Samaritan is a good example. When a doctor of the law asks: “What should I do to inherit eternal life?” and “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells the story in which the Samaritan, a despised foreigner, is the only one who cares for the man who was beaten up and robbed, transcending all ethnic barriers in the name of simple human compassion. He will be rewarded with eternal life!

In the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus promised nothing less than his kingdom and his Father’s blessing to those who have acted compassionately towards the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, and the migrant, all of whom are himself: I was a stranger and you took me in (Matt 25:35). The parable creates a class of people, marginal or poor, identified with the Lord. In the beautiful story of the road to Emmaus, after the death of Jesus on the cross, two of the disciples are downcast. After they insist on giving hospitality to the anonymous traveler, “they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over,'” Jesus reveals himself in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:32). What could be a greater gift than the assurance of Christ’s resurrection and his continued commitment to his friends?

The apostle Paul also promises a gift, parallel to the reward given by Jesus to the sorrowful disciples of Emmaus: Remember to show hospitality. There are some who, by doing so, have entertained angels without knowing it (Heh 13:2). Paul doesn’t say more, but the implicit promise is supported by a long tradition. Angels in the Bible always announce a portent and are messengers of God. They are transforming signs, “a promise of life.”

This brings us back to the title of this reflection. Pope Francis sees migrants as a promise of life. Clearly he bases his conclusion on the word of God, both as God the Father and as Jesus Christ. He is aware of the fact that no nation can welcome all the displaced people in the world, but he hopes for a community of nations that together can look for solutions so that all refugees will have a home, and undocumented people will have a place where they are not persecuted and where they can become full members of the community. Pope Francis and the U.S. bishops understand that nations need to be secure and control migration. They know that in this country many citizens suffer from unemployment, poverty, and many other ills, but they do not believe that a victory’ for poor citizens has to be a loss for immigrants or vice-versa. They are sure the country needs a comprehensively revised immigration law and competent enforcers and administrator s of that law. And they know how many ptxtr people and people of color are losing ground every day. The present administration is unremittingly hostile to civil rights and its executive actions on immigration have never had any sense of fairness or decency, not even an enlightened self-interest.

In 1986 the Catholic Bishops of the United States wrote: “Jesus, who came as Emmanuel (God with us: Matt 1:23) and who promises to be with his people to the end of the age (Matt 28:20) is hidden in those most in need; to reject them is to reject God made manifest in History.”

We believe that God is doing a new thing (Isa 43:18-19), and that immigrant men, women, and children of good will, together with the people of good will in the United States, are God’s instruments in bringing about a new time. With their persistent hope, the work of their hands, their languages and cultures, their faith and strength, migrants are indeed a promise of life.

New Sanctuary Movement Committee