A tradition of caring for the stranger

Even inflammatory statements may contain a kernel of truth

Trail Times Columnist Louise McEwan

Even inflammatory statements may contain a kernel of truth.

Such is the case with former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon’s remarks regarding the opposition of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The bishops called the decision “reprehensible”. They described it as “a heartbreaking moment in our history that shows the absence of mercy and goodwill.” They said it represents a “short sighted vision for the future.”

Bannon, who, incidentally, is a Catholic, said the bishops “need illegal aliens to fill the churches…. They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration.”

The comment feeds into the erroneous assumption that all DACA youth are Hispanic and Catholic. DACA recipients come from numerous countries around the globe; they are ethnically and religiously diverse.

It’s true that many Catholic parishes suffer from dwindling congregations. It’s also true that immigrants are a boon to a parish. They contribute financially and to the life of the community. This, however, is nothing new. In 2000, the USCCB described American Catholicism as an “immigrant church.”

So while there’s a kernel of truth in Bannon’s statement, it’s a stretch of that truth to attribute selfish motivation as the reason for the bishops’ opposition.

Catholicism has a venerable tradition of caring for the stranger. And, the church’s social justice teaching on immigration is clear and well articulated. People have the right to migrate to sustain themselves and their family. A country has the right to regulate its borders and set immigration policy. A country must do so with justice and mercy.

The roots of the teaching go back to the Exodus, the chronicle of the ancient Hebrews’ escape from Egyptian captivity. Frequently in the Bible, God reminds the Israelites of their responsibility to be hospitable and generous to the stranger among them. They were to do so because their ancestors were once aliens in a foreign land.

The New Testament picks up the theme, beginning with the escape of Jesus, Mary and Joseph into Egypt where they lived as refugees. The parable of the Good Samaritan reiterates the command to treat individuals from outside the established community with compassion, caring for them as kin.

The rescinding of DACA, to quote the bishops, is “the opposite of how Scripture calls us to respond.”

Migration is part of the human experience. People have always fled disasters, drought, famine and/or oppression. They have always searched for a Promised Land.

DACA recipients are not alone in seeking a promised land of opportunity. Disenfranchised American citizens also seek it. They seek it in the past; “Make America Great Again”. They think that cracking down on immigration is a step towards greatness. However, as various world leaders have said, the measure of a society, its greatness, is determined by the manner in which it treats the vulnerable.

The American bishops are not callously looking out for their own interests. They are focused on a more comprehensive version of the truth that cannot be found in a kernel.

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