Strangers

Fr. Sam Nasada, OFM

From the Associate Pastor’s Desk

In 2014, I did my chaplaincy internship at Cedars‐Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Being a Jewish hospital, however, does not mean that they only limit their services to those who are of the Jewish religion. One of their core principles is God’s commandment to “not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). Also, “the stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:34).

All the Scripture readings for this Sunday involve the notion of a stranger. The first reading from Isaiah talks about God bringing foreigners to his holy mountain if they join themselves to him and keep his commandments. The Psalm tells about how ALL the nations praise the Lord. St. Paul directs this specific passage to the Gentiles in his letter to the Romans. And finally, in the Gospel Jesus heals the daughter of a woman who happens to be a Canaanite, a people considered by the Jews to be idol‐worshippers.

Being estranged, out of place, or coming to an unfamiliar space is not a nice feeling. When I came to the United States to study more than 20 years ago, I had to deal with a new culture and a new way of life. It could feel threatening and disheartening at times. I was blessed that there was a good number of Indonesian students at the school who helped me transition to this new place. I can’t imagine the experience of someone who is completely alone in an unfamiliar place.

The United States has always been proud of its history as the country of immigrants. The land of opportunities continues to attract people from other countries to migrate here. Yet there seems to be a growing sentiment that it is time to close the door now, that our country can’t afford to let more people in because it threatens the prosperity and well‐being of us citizens. This sentiment is also shared by some Catholics. Even Pope Francis’ teachings on welcoming the migrants are sometimes attacked as “socialist propaganda” or as attempts to form “one world order.”

What they seem to forget is that the Catholic Church’s special attention to migrants is not a recent innovation of Pope Francis, but is rooted in the long tradition of Catholic Social Teaching, of which the fundamental principles are the sacredness of every human life and the fundamental dignity of every single individual. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.”

Pope Pius XII wrote a letter to the bishops of the United States on December 24, 1948: “Since land everywhere offers the possibility of supporting a large number of people, the sovereignty of the State, although it must be respected, cannot be exaggerated to the point that access to this land is, for inadequate or unjustified reasons, denied to needy and decent people from other nations, provided of course, that the public wealth, considered very carefully, does not forbid this.” He later added this statement to the apostolic constitution Exsul Familia Nazarethana.

Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Ecclesia in America, his apostolic exhortation to the faithful in the American continent: “… the Church in America must be a vigilant advocate, defending against any unjust restriction the natural right of individual persons to move freely within their own nation and from one nation to another. Attention must be called to the rights of migrants and their families and to respect for their human dignity, even in cases of non‐legal immigration.”

The feeling of estrangement and alienation is not what God wants for his people. “The Church hears the suffering cry of all who are uprooted from their own land, of families forcefully separated, of those who, in the rapid changes of our day, are unable to find a stable home anywhere. She senses the anguish of those without rights, without any security, at the mercy of every kind of exploitation, and she supports them in their unhappiness. [We are called to work] so that every person’s dignity is respected, the immigrant is welcomed as a brother or sister, and all humanity forms a united family which knows how to appreciate with discernment the different cultures which comprise it. (Pope St. John Paul II’s Message for World Migration Day 2000.) Pope St. Paul VI said in his homily for the closing of the Second Vatican Council: “For the Catholic Church, no one is a stranger, no one is excluded, no one is far away.”

Therefore, let us join the bishops of the United States and Mexico, who in their joint pastoral letter “Strangers no Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope” declare: “We stand in solidarity with you, our migrant brothers and sisters, and we will continue to advocate on your behalf for just and fair migration policies. We commit ourselves to animate communities of Christ’s disciples on both sides of the border to accompany you on your journey so that yours will truly be a journey of hope, not of despair, and so that, at the point of arrival, you will experience that you are strangers no longer and instead members of God’s household.” Peace, Fr. Sam

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