Saturday, June 26, 2010


Just this past Friday the Scripture readings for Mass involved the deportation (for the 2nd time) of Jews to the foreign land of Babylon, leaving only the poorest of the poor behind “as vinedressers and farmers” (II Kg 25:1-12). In an interesting pairing, the Gospel relates Jesus’ cure of a leper (Matt 8:1-4). The theme here, it seems, is one of being an outcast, an exile, someone displaced, belonging nowhere, acceptable to no one.

It seems easy for Americans to see foreigners as “outcasts”—social lepers, if you will: our nation’s history, unfortunately, has too often been marked with a spirit of xenophobia, or fear/resentment of ‘strangers.’ Think of the “nativist” and “No-Nothing” movements in the 19th century, or the anti-immigrant (often, anti-Catholic) sentiments of the late 19th and early 20th century, and so on. The irony is that the Greek work xenos is also able to be translated (for the Greeks, anyway) as ‘guest’…

Christians and Jews are called to look at others, even ‘aliens,’ as people to be accepted: Jews are reminded never to oppress an alien because “you yourselves were once strangers and aliens in the land of Egypt”; Christians are admonished to respect and reach out to those in great need because “I was a stranger and you welcomed me; …inasmuch as you did it for one of the least of these, you did it to me.”

The people of the world are a migratory people by necessity and by compulsion: some folks are driven from their land by persecution or war; others move because of economic issues, seeking work and money to support their families. Famine was why the children of Israel first went into Egypt; persecution was why the Holy Family fled into Egypt. English settlers came to the New World in part to avoid religious persecution; other Europeans came here because the poverty was too great to endure in countries like Ireland, Poland, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Lebanon… All were willing to uproot themselves, like Abram from Ur of the Chaldeans, to find a place where they could hope for something better.

Today’s migrants are no different in their motivations, coming from Haiti or Mexico or other places where suffering is the way of life. In this regard, it is perhaps helpful to remember that before the war of 1850 (a war of “Manifest Destiny”), much of what we call the American Southwest was in fact the territory of Mexico…

Surely immigration needs to be regulated, and migrants need to be documented. The issue is how openly we as a nation are to facilitating this possibility, rather than restricting it. We can look on others who are different as people of Jesus’ time looked at lepers. Or we can see them as He did—those who need to be declared ‘clean,’ and who need to be welcomed into human society. Can we look with the eyes and compassion of Christ?


  1. T his blog does outline the course of human history and the unhappy destiny of most humans. What is the effect on us in our decision-making re immigration when you mention the fact that the American Southwest was once a territory of Mexico? This is a way of side-stepping the current issue. My feeling is that past immigrants followed civil procedures to become citizens. This has been ignored for dozens of years. The fact American businesses have knowingly hired illegals has created a divisive spirit with U.S. citizens & other nationals. Our elected officials have abused many situations & seek more voting power by allowing amnesty without due process of citizenship. Individually, compassion is easy; it tends to subside if the numbers multiply thru illegal maneuvers. Frankly, I feel overwhelmed at all the human errors that have brought us to this state of confused emotions.

  2. Observing that the American Southwest was once Mexico (part of the country, not a "territory" doesn't side-step anything; it steps into a serious issue (if you doubt this, look at the last 60+ years of the history of Israel/Palestine). I'm adding a dimension to the bigger picture, for whatever it's worth.

    In the interests of "full disclosure": I understand my materal grandfather was also an "illegal alien," though back in the 1910s, and from what was then Austria-Hungary...

  3. PS-- Please close the parentheses after the word "territory." Thanks!

  4. How many "Americans" are not descended from other nations? But being someone who suffers from the "human condition" I too tend to stereotype these people out of fear. So I have to pray that God helps our lawmakers avoid doing this. Because I am sure my ancestors were not all legal. I am truly blessed to have been born in a free nation.

  5. When Immigrants arrived via boat from Europe, they were given their legal citizenship status (documents) immediately. Immigrants from (primarily) Mexico, or other Latin American countries, are not automatically given legal citizenship status, as were earlier immigrants, the process is much more involved, very costly, and can take up to several years to come to a conclusion. We cannot compare today's immigration process with the earlier (processes), because in fact there is no comparison. Many of today's immigrants are victimized (primarily women and children), it it in fact heartbreaking what some endure. what is the real reason for the hatred? They have not (economically) impacted me personally, other than the price of fruits, vegetables, and other are kept low and affordable. I sometimes wish there was some other planet I could move to. I am so sick and tired of the hatred being spewed.
    Lisa Adams