As you may know, I moderate an Instagram account (@calledmarist) as part of my vocation promotion efforts for the Marist Brothers in the USA. In addition to content related to religious vocations, the Marist family, or my surroundings and activities here in the Dominican Republic, I often put up posts relevant to the Catholic Church in general. This sometimes includes recognition of the feast days of saints who have some special meaning for me. This past Tuesday, November 13, was the feast day of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, an Italian-born woman who became the first American citizen to be canonized a saint, thanks in large part to her tireless and nationwide efforts to help the poor, especially immigrants for whom she is a patron saint. My post remembering Mother Cabrini quickly became one of the most popular I have put up yet. Maybe people just love Cabrini—and what’s not to love?—but I suspect that many people were moved by their own heart for migrants and the displaced.
Unfortunately today, migration tends to be seen as a political issue. Certainly the phenomenon of migration requires political responses, regardless of what one thinks those should be. By focusing on policy however or, worse still, on partisan politics, we can forget that long before it is a political issue, migration is first and foremost a human issue.
Most citizens of the USA will readily recognize that their ancestors came to the United States from elsewhere. For many though, the facts of their own relatives’ respective migrations are either ancient history or obscured by a specious fantasy of rigorous adherence to legal processes that even so were very dissimilar to those today.
My paternal grandfather was born in Québec and came down to New England with his family when he was a boy (what border? did you see a border?) and only became a naturalized US citizen in recognition of his service in the Army Air Corps during World War II. My grandmother, who died before I was born, was a brown-skinned Tex-Mex woman who was close enough to her Choctaw heritage that my dad remembers her whole family always cheering for the Indians when they watched Westerns. While she was born on the US side of the border, she crossed back and forth frequently and easily enough that she both spoke Spanish and cooked Mexican—thanks to her, I have still not tasted a better chili relleno than my dad used to make. It was this couple who adopted and raised my dad, and whom I call my grandparents—not the more classically “American” couple who I’ll never know but whose genes I inherited.
As I do the math in my own life, I have lived abroad for almost 20% of my 38 years. The most significant chunk of that time was in China, but there have also been significant stints in Germany and now the Dominican Republic. I have always been welcomed and treated warmly by most people in my various host countries, but one of the things I learned particularly in China is how very much on the outside you can be when you don’t yet know the language or procedures that govern your surroundings. Yes, this stranger has always been welcomed, but it is nonetheless a very humbling experience to walk down a street knowing that in spite of my college education, the unwashed beggar knows a lot more about what is happening in the world immediately around me than I do. This is one lesson, among others, that I wish I could share with more US citizens.
It also turns out that I didn’t always have the most appropriate papers throughout my time in China. My employer said to enter on a tourist visa and they would take care of things from there; I listened. As a result, sometimes I had the appropriate documentation, and at other times, I had papers not proper to my status—what we call undocumented.
Once when I was teaching social justice at Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, MA, I shared the story of my uneven legal status in China to hopefully contribute a different perspective to the situation of undocumented persons in the USA today. One of my students shared in writing though that she was shocked and disappointed because she had supposed that I was a great moral role model, something that I clearly couldn’t have been after all because I had filled out the wrong paperwork eight years earlier. It’s probably a good thing I never mentioned anything about the music I downloaded when I was in college.
Jesus makes it very explicit that how we welcome strangers is one criterion by which we will be judged at the end of time. What will that be like?
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
The “ear candy” and “brain food” for this week both relate somehow to migration. In “Where the Streets Have No Name”, the lyrics seem to suggest going to more remote parts of the world to find peace. In contrast, a number of migrants today actually originate from places where the streets have no names, such as many I have seen here in the Dominican Republic. The reading selection is short and not originally meant for a public audience, but rather as a tool for priests preparing a homily on migration. I have chosen it because of the clear way it presents official and Scripturally-based Catholic Church teaching on migration as communicated to us by the bishops.
Ear Candy: “Where the Streets Have No Name” by U2 (featuring the Soweto Gospel Choir)
Brain Food: “Homily Suggestions for National Migration Week, January 2018” by US Conference of Catholic Bishops