Political rhetoric surrounding the immigration problem and, most recently President Barack Obama’s executive action, brings to mind what the Holy Father has called our “throwaway culture” that depersonalizes people who simply become another commodity to be dealt with.
A little over a year ago, Pope Francis made his first trip out of Rome to the Island of Lampedusa in the Mediterranean to bless a memorial to the hundreds of refugees who have drowned seeking refuge in the small landmass off the coast of North Africa. Most of those drowned were Muslims hoping to reach the Italian island and safety in Europe.
On that occasion, the Holy Father praised the people of Lampedusa for taking in survivors of the tragedy and setting an example of solidarity to a selfish society sliding into the globalization of indifference. “We have become used to other people’s suffering, it doesn’t concern us, it doesn’t interest us,” Pope Francis said.
We have chosen terms like “the undocumented” and the “illegals” to describe human beings — women, men and children — who have been criminalized for seeking refuge and freedom. It is the same refuge and freedom that was sought and received by the ancestors of those who feel no mercy or compassion when it comes to discussing today’s immigration problem.
I have previously chosen the passage from Leviticus 19:34: “You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.” The admonition is repeated more than once in the Hebrew Scripture. Jesus, himself, was a refugee child of parents seeking a safe haven in Egypt from persecution.
There is a double tragedy here. The first is that thousands have had to flee terror and persecution. The second is that their plight has not met with the mercy and compassion and the welcome our forefathers received, but rather has become a political football.
Perhaps we need to be reminded of the verse from Emma Lazarus’ poem the New Colossus that graces the base of the Statue of Liberty as an invitation to the world:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!