Open borders, doors and hearts

Between Masses two Sundays ago, I’ll confess, I glanced at Facebook. One of the first posts I saw got my attention. It was from Father James Martin, a prominent Jesuit writer.

Breaking: Pope Francis has called on every Catholic parish, religious order house, monastery, and sanctuary in Europe to take in a refugee family. “I address myself to my brother bishops of Europe … that in their dioceses they will support this appeal of mine, remembering that Mercy is the second name of Love,” said the Pope, quoting Matthew’s Gospel: ‘Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” His extraordinary appeal is a reminder that faith without works is dead.

How does that appeal not get one’s attention. To be honest, at first I didn’t notice the pope’s encouragement was limited to Europe and thought he was speaking to all of us. I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but the prospect did cause me to perspire even more on an already muggy morning.

Despite the preponderance of technology and means of communication that can give us a virtual presence almost anywhere, I’ve struggled to comprehend the immensity of the refugee crisis flowing across Europe like lava from a volcano. If it had all seemed too overwhelming, too much about big numbers and European politics, that changed with the the terribly distressing image earlier in the week of a 3-year-old boy who’d drowned while fleeing Syria in a boat with his family. It was one of those scenes you don’t want to look at but also can’t turn away from.

I had felt challenged to speak to the refugee situation in my homily the prior week; to call attention to the sadness of seeing that boy’s lifeless body, the immense sorrow of his father, the fear and anger and uncertainty confronted by thousands, the burden confronting nations flooded with people seeking a home. Part of the challenge came from the scripture passages that seemed to so clearly complement the crisis: the affirmation of Isaiah – “be strong, fear not!”; the alarm sounded by James against making distinctions as to whom we welcome and how; the wonderful command of Jesus, Ephphatha! Be opened!

But I didn’t know what to say, exactly. Or maybe I just chickened out.

Leave it to Pope Francis to not only know what to say, but what to do. He after all might be one of the first to remind us of a line from the Letter of James just a week earlier, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.”

While reading the Facebook post more closely I’d been relieved to see that the pope was really only speaking to Europeans. Their parishes and other Catholic institutions were called upon to sponsor refugees, and he acknowledged that the Vatican would do the same. But James would almost certainly poke those of us feeling left off the hook: Don’t delude yourselves. Don’t think this crisis doesn’t involve you. When we connect the dots in our intricately complicated and connected world the lines almost inevitably cross our way too.

How we respond is a question I can’t answer right now. But maybe this refugee crisis most immediately prompts us to think about the immigrants and refugees we do welcome, or don’t; how we and our political leaders and candidates speak of them and show regard for them. Pope Francis rooted his refugee plea in last Sunday’s gospel, a good place for us to refer back to as well. TL


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