Monday, January 11, 2010


Co-sponsored by parent-program Christus and its recently-born child Trialogue, Dr. Scott Alexander will speak on Thursday evening on the topic “To Treat the Stranger as Neighbor: An Abrahamic Imperative.” The presentation will be 7:00 pm in Byrne Hall on Spring Hill College’s campus.

This theme is timed well to meet the concerted push for immigration reform, supported strongly by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and in more than mere principle by Pope Benedict XVI. The Pope’s message for the 2010 World Day for Migrants (which will be celebrated this year in the coming weekend) focuses on respect for minors who are migrants or refugees.

I have no idea how Dr. Alexander will approach his theme, but if I were doing the presentation I would begin with the famous “Old Testament Trinity” icon, written by St Andrei Rublev in the 15th century. It is based on the scene of Abraham’s 3 visitors (Genesis 18). The Letter to the Hebrews alludes to this in recommending hospitality: “…for by this means some have entertained angels unknowingly” (Hebrews 13:2). But this leads us back to migrants, especially in our country.

Some of the insights of Pope Benedict are as follows (all in his Message for the 96th World Day of Migrants and Refugees):

“The migrant is a person who possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone and in every circumstance.
“…And how can one fail to consider migrant and refugee minors as also being among the ‘least’ [(cf. Mt 25:40, 45)]? As a child, Jesus himself experienced migration for, as the Gospel recounts, in order to flee the threats of Herod, he had to seek refuge in Egypt together with Joseph and Mary (cf. Mt 2:14).
“Jesus’ words resound in our hearts: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Mt 25:35)…
“…any of our concrete interventions must first be nurtured by faith in the action of grace and divine Providence. In this way also hospitality and solidarity to strangers, especially if they are children, become a proclamation of the Gospel of solidarity.”

As a nation, one of our chief health concerns is childhood obesity. In light of this, how can we deny others the right to emigrate and work and earn a living for their families that they cannot possibly experience in their native country? This is, after all, the motive force for virtually all immigration, especially to the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when many of our parents or grandparents came to these shores. The images imbedded in my own mind include the inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty, the Charlie Chaplin silent film The Immigrant, and Neil Diamond’s song “Coming to America”…

Immigration reform means re-establishing the policies and quotas for the opening of our nation to others. It has nothing to do with the ‘red herring’ of terrorists sneaking into our homes to destroy us. It is about welcoming the stranger as Jesus taught us.

It is an interesting detail that the Greek word that is a root for ‘fear (and hatred) of the stranger’ [zeno-phobia] can be translated, depending upon circumstances, as either “stranger” or “guest.” Which way will we choose to translate that word?

And why?


  1. There is very little controversial about the point of view of the Catholic
    church and migrants, because one can assume that these migrants have come here legally. I believe there is a process that seems presently to be followed even when a migrant comes to America fleeing persecution. The waiting period may be too long and should be taken into consideration when reviewing present immigration laws. Hopefully, whatever changes will be enacted will be of merit to both the migrant and the average U.S. citizen.

  2. I wonder if Jesus, Mary and Joseph were thought of as illegal aliens when they migrated to Egypt?...The truth is that the immigration system that is in place today makes it virtually impossible to obtain the legal documents needed to obtain lawful entry for persons afflicted with the scourge of poverty and lack of education. And as God does most assuredly know, these are the very people that are so desperate and need a helping hand up from these conditions. It is a fact that they take the jobs that no one else in this country is willing to take for the little compensation received, and they are sadly to say, too often, exploited and abused by their employers and neighbors, and yet they still take that chance. I hope that God grants me the Grace to be more compassionate and understanding regarding their desperate plight.
    Lisa Adams

  3. I know you were interested in the Islamic approach to this subject. Did you learn anything new?