In today’s gospel, foreigners seem to enjoy more success than the people of Israel. Jesus encountered opposition and rebuke from people in his hometown, especially when he reminded them that it was often “outsiders” or “others” who benefitted from God’s mercy before the Chosen People. The Build the Faith community might seem very distant to folks in Ghana, Nicaragua, Argentina or Colombia, but God can certainly use the distant “other” to help us build our own faith.
The United States includes a lot of “outsiders” and new immigrants are continuing to arrive. The US also stands out among developed countries for having a high degree of religiosity. As an Irish immigrant to Boston, since the 1980s I have often wondered if incoming migration explains this high level of faith. Latinos make up almost 40% of the Catholic population in the United States today. In the United States, immigration is simply all around us.
For much of human history people moved around a lot. Some of the reasons include the possibility of better economic opportunities or, like the Holy family after Jesus’ birth, migration was necessary to flee persecution. Currently, political instability and climate challenges are among the main reasons for recent arrivals to the United States of Afghan and Haitian evacuees.
In Haiti, last summer a 7.2 earthquake took more than 2,200 lives and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse led to the arrival of thousands of Haitian evacuees at the Mexican/US border. The human suffering is unimaginable and unfortunately children experience this hardship. The memories of the chaotic airlift of Afghans who worked with Americans last summer are still fresh in our minds.
Our local Church, St Julia’s, just west of Boston, is sponsoring “humanitarian parolees” from Afghanistan. Congress will hopefully designate them with refugee status soon. Almost 100,000 people were airlifted from Kabul and taken to seven military bases where they received medical care and began the process of getting documentation such as work authorization. They worry about their families who are subject to Taliban rules and possible reprisals. It is obvious to me that their Islamic faith provides comfort and hope. Challenges in life help us appreciate our need for God. Jesus experienced suffering and his public life was characterized by healing others who were in physical or spiritual pain. Each migrant’s story is obviously unique but inevitably all must figure out a new culture even as they yearn for friends and family back home.
Responding to Jesus’ message about welcoming the stranger is a way to build the faith. Similarly supporting faith communities in Latin America and Africa by providing physical structures for community worship is also building the faith. “Outsiders,” migrants, distant “others” can be the conduit by which we recognize our common humanity and our connection to one another in the Body of Christ. Our sisters’ and brothers’ need for new churches in Ghana, Nicaragua, Colombia or Argentina gives the Build the Faith community a chance to grow closer to God as we reach outside our own community.
Colm Is a Deacon in the Archdiocese of Boston and a prison Chaplain. He and his wife Julie have 4 adult children and 2 grandchildren. His Catholic faith has always been a central part of his family and work life and is a source of endless joy.