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How do we welcome the stranger?
Thousands of people living in the United States feel unwelcome right now. High school and college students benefiting from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals legislation (DACA) are facing an uncertain future in this country. Refugees who have fled natural disasters and received protection from Temporary Protected Status (TPS) are seeing their welcome expire. A wall is being built.
This is not the way to welcome the stranger. This is not the way to respond to God’s call. We are unambiguously called to welcome the stranger.
The Old Testament makes this obligation clear: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:20). Jesus also leaves no doubt: “for I was a stranger, and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35).
Church teaching instructs us to “alleviate the distressing conditions of refugees…and assist migrants and their families.” Pope Francis further tells us, “It is necessary to respond to the globalization of migration with the globalization of charity and cooperation, in such a way as to make the conditions for migrants more humane.”
Our sense of love and charity alone compel us to action as we witness fellow humans in need. We cannot think of refugees and migrants simply as threats to our jobs or alarming statistics. We have to see them as the people they are. We have to meet them, work with them, and hear their stories.
The Virgin Mary can be our guide. Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which celebrates an apparition of the Virgin Mary on Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City as a young indigenous woman who spoke to Juan Diego in his native Nahuatl tongue. She encountered Juan Diego as he was and thus offers us a model of encountering others with dignity and respect. Our Lady of Guadalupe was later declared the Patroness of the Americas. Since then, she has come to be seen as an advocate for migrants and vulnerable populations.
As we celebrate her feast, let us take this day to reflect on our neighboring nations, the refugees and migrants who flee their home countries, and how we can live out the Gospel call of hospitality. And let’s take action.
Confronted with the problems of our world, we can often feel paralyzed into inaction. Even when we know we need to create change, we get stuck asking, “but how?” When it comes to the call to welcome the stranger and extend hospitality to refugees and migrants, here are some resources to help you out.
Inspired by efforts elsewhere in the world, the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States launched the “Campaign for Hospitality” earlier this year. Coordinated by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, this campaign seeks to engage people through encounter, understanding and action.
You can join the campaign as a school, parish or individual. By joining, you commit to participate in at least three initiatives per year. Examples of initiatives include:
- Volunteering at a migrant shelter.
- Contacting members of Congress in favor of the Dream Act or extending TPS.
- Participating in a social media campaign.
One such social media campaign is taking place today, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Jesuits from around the world, including TJP staff and writers, will be joining others from the Ignatian Solidarity Network in posting photos. Look for the photos on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter under the hashtag #CforH (Campaign for Hospitality).
Want to participate? Use this image of Guadalupe with the message “I pray that people who migrate are treated with respect and dignity.” Take a photo of yourself and others holding up the sign and tag it with #CforH and give a shout out @thejesuitpost and @IGsolidarityNET.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) along with partner organizations Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services has also launched an initiative called “Share the Journey.” Their website offers a variety of helpful resources for engaging the issue of migration. It is a great place to learn more and take action.
- Read stories of migrants and refugees.
- Explore the prayers and educational activities in support of refugees and immigrants.
- Take advantage of the Advent toolkit to further enter into this liturgical season with activities, videos, and even an online retreat.
If you participate in today’s social media campaign, you can also add the tag #ShareTheJourney.
As we approach Christmas, let us recall the story of a pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph as they traveled to Bethlehem. Knocking on door after door, they were looking for a welcome. But they received none.
So it came to be that our Lord and Savior was born not in the warmth of a home or even within the comfort of an inn, but instead in a humble stable.
There is a knocking on our door. How will we welcome the stranger?
We can start by opening the door and meeting the person on the other side. They will cease to be a stranger anymore. And if we look closely, we will even see the face of Jesus in them.
As we continue in this Advent season, let us open the door, meet the stranger, and show our hospitality.