Signs of the Time: Sharing the Journey with Our Immigrant Sisters and Brothers

by Scott Wright

On September 27, Pope Francis will launch a global campaign to support migrants and refugees called “Share the Journey.” The aim of the campaign is to promote a culture of encounter with migrants and refugees, as they journey from their homes, through foreign lands in search of refuge, until they reach a final destination in a land they hope will welcome them and invite them to make a new home.

Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, director of Caritas Internationalis and the campaign coordinator, added: “We hope to dispel fear and understand why so many people are leaving their homes at this time in history. We also want to inspire communities to build relationships with refugees and migrants. We want to shine a light and lead the way. Migration is a very old story but our campaign aims to help communities see it with new eyes and an open heart.”

These are dramatic times for migrants and refugees. More people are crossing borders or forcibly displaced from their homes than at any time in recent history, at least since the end of the Second World War. There are many reasons why: violence and war, poverty and hunger, and climate-related disasters such as catastrophic hurricanes, extreme droughts, massive flooding, and rising sea levels.

Today, for millions of people throughout the world, one’s place in the human family is defined by events beyond one’s control. Whether poverty, violence, or climate-related disasters, you and your family wake up one morning to a new reality: you have become an internally displaced person (IDP), a migrant, a refugee, an asylum seeker – and sometimes over time all of these.

Welcoming the Stranger in a Time of Mass Deportation

In Pope Francis’ words, “war, persecution, natural disasters and poverty” have become “signs of the time,” something that indelibly marks a particular time in history, but also something that reveals where God is present, or sometimes felt as absent, in history. For people of the Abrahamic faiths, (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), “welcoming the stranger” is a divine obligation and a great responsibility. In Pope Francis’ words, “Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age (Matt 25:35-43).”

But what about us? Where are we in this global picture? What kind of country do we belong to and call home? Are we a place of welcome? Do we see in every immigrant or refugee our sister or brother, a child of God for whom we are responsible?

We claim to live in “a nation of immigrants,” we take pride in the words at the base of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but have we forgotten that from those to whom much was given – a chance for our families and ancestors to breathe again, free from poverty or persecution – much is also expected: an obligation to welcome those who come after in search of refuge.

 Today, there is real concern that the current administration is planning massive raids on immigrant communities, starting this fall. Multiple sources close to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have revealed plans to target as many as 6,000 – 10,000 for mass deportation as part of escalating attacks on immigrants. ICE has officially commented that it has delayed this plan, in light of the people affected by the hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

But what if this really happens. The rationale seems to be, since Congress is unwilling to pass comprehensive immigration reform and a path to legalize the status of more than 11 million undocumented immigrants, the only option is mass deportation.

Sorrow and Mourning Flee Away: The Witness of a Border Diocese

One inspiring response to these concerns comes from the border region of El Paso, Texas, where the Columban Mission Center is located. In a moving pastoral letter on migration, Bishop Mark Seitz, offered these words of hope: “Even in the midst of these struggles, in the faith of the people of El Paso I have seen sorrow and mourning flee,” citing the title of the pastoral letter.

“We are living in trying times as a country, and migrants are living through a dark night of fear and uncertainty. Deportations are separating parents from children, and harsh political rhetoric is causing fear in our parishes and neighborhoods. Our broken system of immigration is a wound on this border community. It is a scandal to the Body of Christ.”

But, he reminded people, “the Lord hears the cry of the poor. Since Jesus announced Good News to the poor, our Church has been called to stand with the suffering.”

These are words of encouragement, words of hope rooted in the Gospel and affirmed in a deep commitment of solidarity with migrants and refugees, regardless of whether they are documented or not.

“There is no distinction between documented and undocumented when together we receive the Bread of Life in our chapels and churches,” Bishop Seitz affirmed. “Every human being bears within him or her the image of God, which confers on us a dignity higher than any passport or immigration status. Jesus himself was a refugee on the flight into Egypt. God stands on the side of migrants.”

The Church’s teaching on migration, the pastoral letter reminds us, is rooted “in encounter, conversion and compassion.” Citing words from Pope Francis, he added: “The poor have much to teach us. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them.” In the midst of anguish and confusion, “the Gospel teaches us that we will find God among the poor and excluded.”

In a culture of indifference and fear, immigrants bear witness to “faith, life, and family,” values increasingly forgotten in our culture today. “They wake us up from our indifference, opening our eyes to the injustices of globalization and an economy of exclusion and inequality.”

Solidarity and the Joy of Gospel Living

There is something inspiring and joyful in this pastoral letter from the border, an inspiration and joy that may be found in the living witness of these border communities. Those who have been to the border can testify to this, even in the midst of great challenges and suffering borne largely by immigrants and their families.

In Bishop Seitz’s words, “I am convinced that the depth of faith of our people and the vitality of our parishes is owed in no small part to our community’s generosity in welcoming the stranger and the option we make for the poor.” A witness that is profound even in its simplicity: welcome the stranger, do not forget the poor, and work for a world in which immigrant and poor live with dignity and justice.

But with the joy of the Gospel, comes responsibility for each other. In the words of the pastoral letter:

“We must continue to denounce the evil of family separation, the militarization of our border communities, for-profit immigration detention, the mistreatment of asylum seekers and the disparagement of our Muslim brothers and sisters.”

“We must confront the injustice of a global economy of exclusion.”

“We must work to overcome the polarization tearing our communities apart.”

And we must appeal to local law enforcement and immigration authorities “to not ignore the obligations of conscience. Treat all you encounter with dignity and respect … as your brothers and sisters, as children of God. No human being is illegal!”

Above all, we are invited, challenged, called “to share the journey” with migrants and refugees “in their anxiety and pain on the road to liberation, away from sorrow and mourning and on the road to a future of joy and gladness. God wishes to save his people today, by making a new history. We are called to action!”