A worthy Advent cause for all Americans

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CNS photo/Alkis Konstantinidis, Reuters
Migrants who are part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States rest Nov. 28 at a temporary camp in Tijuana, Mexico. As concerns about the caravan rise, Bishop James A. Tamayo of Laredo, Texas, and other Texas bishops urged church leaders and lay faithful to extend respect and compassion for migrants and all who come to Catholic churches in need.

We Christians celebrate the beginning movement of Advent this year and meditate on our conduct as we await the return of the Lord in his glory. As Christians we also take stands on the political decisions of our day based and rooted in the teachings handed down to us from all our forbearers in the faith. We look to our sacred Scripture to help us navigate through some of the rather difficult issues of our day.

One issue that is literally at our national door is the fate of the migrant caravan at the border. We look to our religious Scriptures and tradition, as well as our national ethos enshrined in the words at the base of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

A few snippets from the Hebrew Scriptures reminds us:

— “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:21)

— “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord’ For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever” (Jer 7:4-12)

— “Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another” (Zec 7:10)

And in our Christian Scriptures:

— “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19)

— “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers” (Rom 12:13)

— “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:2)

— “Be hospitable to one another without complaining” (1Pt 3:9)

It is certainly true that the United States cannot take in the entire world’s most vulnerable people and must have national borders for the safety of our citizens. Yet we are also the most powerful and wealthiest nation on earth, as well as a compassionate nation that sees the suffering of so many of our neighbors to the South, and during this time of economic prosperity in our county, we can help these poor desperate people at our border. It is also true that many of them have been suffering under despotic leaders and circumstances caused by world decisions and realities that have left so many of our neighbors poor and desperate. Will we Christian Americans greet them with an open hand or a closed fist?

Rabbi Josh Whinston of Michigan, rabbi at Temple Beth Emeth in Ann Arbor, has launched an effort to lead a multi-faith caravan from Michigan and other states to drive to Tornillo, Texas, to help immigrants and refugees in shelters and the growing tent camp at the border. He was most concerned for the fate of so many women and children in these camps.

“We can’t ignore these children. It’s causing trauma to these kids. And it’s caused by us, the American people, because it’s our government doing it. Not on my behalf, please don’t cause trauma to these children. They’ve been traumatized enough!” he said.

“As Catholic agencies assisting poor and vulnerable migrants in the U.S. and around the world, we are deeply saddened by the violence, injustice and deteriorating economic conditions forcing many people to flee their homes in Central America,” wrote Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee, in a statement also signed by Sean Callahan, president and C.E.O. of Catholic Relief Services, and Donna Markham,O.P., president and C.E.O. of Catholic Charities USA.

They also said, “While nations have the right to protect their borders, this right comes with responsibilities: governments must enforce laws proportionately, treat all people humanely, and provide due process.”

Colleen Walker Burroughs, writing in the Baptist News Global, reminds us, Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu “once said that if we are neutral in situations of injustice, we have chosen the side of the oppressor. This is one of those moments we need not — and must not — be neutral. In response to the desperate plight of the so-called caravan of Central American refugees, the followers of Jesus need to mount a crusade of caring, hospitality and goodwill.”

Sounds like a worthy Advent exercise for us all!

Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.