I simply cannot understand the deep anger and animosity directed at immigrants. It is not something that occurs just in the United States, either. There are countries all over the world who do not always have an attitude that is favorable to immigrants. For that matter, there are those who, when considering foreign aid or helping people who are desperately poor in other nations want to limit help only to our own country. Many candidates advocate that a giant wall be built along the border with Mexico, and some even would not rule out a giant wall along the border with Canada.
When I hear such things I become very sad. Because it seems to me, that underneath all of this desire to keep immigrants out is fear. We are afraid. And we seek to deal with this fear by enclosing ourselves into a world, a prison really, to keep out the strangers. It feels that we search in vain for a guaranteed safety, a selfish clinging to what fails to satisfy.
Thank God that the saints of old, and even saints today, do not have that attitude. Far from building walls to keep people out, they heard the call of Jesus, the stranger, whom they welcomed. Saint Peter Claver, whose feast we celebrate today, was one such saint. Seeking to evangelize the Africans, he could not imagine how eager they would be to hear the good news he came to bring.
On days like today I cannot help but think about whether I take the words of Jesus seriously enough. Do I care for the poor? Do I welcome the stranger? Do I visit the sick or those in prison? These are the specific deeds mentioned by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. It seems too much of the rhetoric we hear from politicians and others is far removed from the reality of the words of Jesus.
No where does this seem more apparent to me than the sad plight and crisis faced by the Syrian refugees. We can clearly see the tragedies created by ISIS, but does our own fear keep us from acting to do something, anything for these desperate refugees? It is a crisis of epic proportions, really. But most of us simply look with sadness at the situation.
Pope Francis has heard the call of welcome. He has opened the Vatican to refugees, and has asked parishes in Europe to do the same. Can we open our hearts to see the stranger not as a threat, but as a person with profound human dignity waiting to hear the gospel message? Christ the refugee awaits our response.