“I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.”
President Trump has announced that he will order the construction of a Mexican border wall, the first in a series of actions to crack down on immigrants, which will include slashing the number of refugees who can resettle in the United States, and blocking Syrians and others from what are called “terror-prone nations” from entering, at least temporarily.
These measures, which mean the rejection of the stranger, the rejection of the person in need, the rejection of those who suffer, are manifestly unchristian and utterly contrary to the Gospel. Indeed, last year, Pope Francis said, “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel.”
But maybe you don’t want to listen to Pope Francis. Maybe you think that he was being too political. Or maybe you think Pope Francis is too progressive for you.
Maybe you think that you have a right to refuse a person in need. And that you have the right to protect yourself. Well, we do have the right of self-protection. But refusing the one in need because you want to protect yourself, especially when the other is in desperate need and obvious danger, is not what Christianity is about. It’s about the opposite. It’s about helping the stranger, even if it carries some risk. That’s the Parable of the Good Samaritan in a nutshell.
But if you still don’t want to listen to Pope Francis, then listen to Pope John Paul II, St. John Paul II, who wrote dozens of times about refugees and migrants. “Seek to help our brother and sister refugees in every possible way by providing a welcome…Show them an open mind and a warm heart,” he said. And as if predicting our current situation, he said, “It is necessary to guard against the rise of new forms of racism or xenophobic behavior, which attempt to make these brothers and sisters of ours scapegoats for what may be difficult local situations.”
For this is an issue of life or death. Migrants flee from profound poverty, which causes suffering and can lead to death. Refugees flee from persecution, terror and war, out of fear for their lives. This is, then, one of the church’s life issues, so dear to St. John Paul II.
But maybe you don’t want to listen to St. John Paul. Maybe you’re not Catholic. Then listen to the voice of God in the Book of Exodus, speaking to the people of Israel: “You shall not oppress the resident alien [i.e, the refugee] for you aliens yourselves once, in the land of Egypt.” Every American heart should be stirred by that. Other than the Native Americans, all of us are descendants of immigrants. We were aliens ourselves once.
But maybe you don’t want to listen to the Old Testament. Then, in the end, listen to Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, he provides a litmus test for entrance into heaven. At the Last Judgment, he will say to people, “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” And people will say, “When were you a stranger and we did not take care of you?’ And he will say, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”
Jesus himself is speaking to you from the Gospels. It is Christ whom we turn away when we build walls. It is Christ whom we reject when we slash quotas for refugees. It is Christ whom we are killing, by letting them die in poverty and war rather than opening our doors.
“Today,” St. John Paul II said, “the illegal migrant comes before us like that ‘stranger’ in whom Jesus asks to be recognized. To welcome him and to show him solidarity is a duty of hospitality and fidelity to Christian identity itself.”
So, reject these measures and welcome Christ. Call your local legislators and tell them to care for Christ. Write to the White House and ask them to protect Christ. Show up at town hall meetings and advocate for Christ. And pray for our brothers and sisters who are refugees and migrants.
Because if you do not, and you reject Christ, then it is their prayers that you will need.
Fr. James Martin, SJ