As we celebrate the Christmas Season, I think of the Holy Family as well as of many struggling families today. I think of Mary and Joseph desperately searching for lodging as she is about to give birth. They could not find lodging except for a stall for animals; therefore, “Mary gave birth to her first-born son … and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Lk 2:6).
Imagine the Holy Family’s terrifying escape into Egypt because Herod was determined to kill Jesus (Mt 2:13-15). Jesus escaped with the help of the Wise Men; however, several children under the age of 2 were massacred (the Holy Innocents – Mt 2:16-18).
During the earliest years of Jesus’ life, the Holy Family experienced forced migration, homelessness and terroristic threats. Countless families throughout the world are experiencing these today: migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers forced to move because of dire poverty, war, violence and political threats. Many come to our nation as a place of refuge and peace — and also to contribute to our society. Our nation has always been and still is being built upon migrants.
Recently, a couple from my parish of Holy Cross in Bridgeton was torn from its three children and deported to their native country. Oscar and Humberta Campos were active parishioners and upright, hardworking residents of Bridgeton. They were an asset to our parish and to our local community. They were lectors, catechists and business owners who paid taxes and raised their children to the best of their ability. Were they undocumented and in our country illegally? Yes. Did they try to make the situation right and cooperate with Federal authorities? Also yes. Should they pay a penalty for their actions? Yes again. Should they have been torn from their three children — all United States citizens? Definitely no!
Migration is a complex and emotional issue; yet, solutions can be formed that promote the welfare and security of our nation and the humane and just treatment of migrants and refugees. We have a broken immigration system in the United States. A just and better system would take into account border regulation and security as well as the mutually beneficial exchange of labor (not just goods) between nations. Our country — to be great — needs adequate labor. Many businesses in the United States suffer a labor shortage. American business owners are desperately looking for reliable laborers but cannot find enough among our own citizens. Thus our businesses look abroad for qualified and sufficient labor.
Our government leaders ought to form a better immigration system that benefits our nation’s economy as well as the immigrant who comes to work. Immigration ought to be a “win-win” situation. With the present immigration system, we are all losers. Let us look to the immigrants not as enemies, but as protagonists in making our nation great.
I encourage the reader to join a campaign initiated by Pope Francis called “Share the Journey.” The program’s aim is to promote a culture of encounter with migrants and refugees among us: in our parishes, schools, work places and communities. The idea is to transform suspicion to friendship and to see migrants and refugees not as a drain to society, but as contributors to the greatness of our nation.
The United States Bishops Conference has developed a website with resources for parishes and schools: www.loveyourneighbor.us/. Also, we may reach out to refugees and migrants with the hash tag #ShareJourney. In heeding the call of Scripture to welcome the stranger and the foreigner (see, for example, Ex 22:20-21; Lv 19:9-10 & 33-34; Mt 25:35, 43), we are living fully our Catholic faith.
Father Matthew Weber is pastor of Holy Cross Parish, Bridgeton.