We Must Continue to Welcome the Stranger

Violence: We see it everywhere — in our neighborhoods, our schools, our communities, our world — and feel less able to avoid it. Along with the violence, we see images of people fleeing, sometimes walking for miles to escape intolerable situations. It happens over and over. We can trace violence through our refugees from the Vietnamese in the 1970s, the Latin Americans in the 1980s, the Bosnians in the 1990s, children surging across our borders just last year, and now the refugees from the Middle East.

In simple terms, we are afraid of any group that we foresee as threatening to us in some way. And we are seeing evidence that not all refugees are seeking asylum: Some are slipping across our borders with evil intentions. This offers us another reason to be afraid of those who don’t look like we do, don’t speak our language and want something from us.

We don’t see how refugees, whether they are children or families, can enrich our lives, stretch us to become our best selves by opening our doors to them. Have we become so fearful and self-centered that we cannot reach out to others whose very lives are threatened if they remain in their home countries? Who would want to leave home forever, abandoning friends, other family members, possessions to embark on a journey without a destination, relying on the generosity of others?

It’s laudable to drop off clothes at a St. Vincent de Paul store, to send a check to a worthy organization. This is, after all, the season when we typically do those things, but now we’re being asked to do more: to be tolerant, to be willing to be merciful to people we don’t understand, coming from countries where some people hate us and offer them hope and a new beginning.

It’s easy to sit in a snug office contemplating a bright future for refugees, whether they arrived from Latin America or are still arriving from the Middle East or other parts of the world. We’ve made so many mistakes over the years, reacting to terrible tragedies instead of openly trying to work with countries to make systemic changes so people don’t need to flee for their lives.

Instead of forming partnerships with countries to make positive changes for their people that can be the basis of lasting relationships, we have watched people become desperate, making life-changing or life-threatening decisions because they can no longer remain where they are.

We are celebrating a Year of Mercy in our Catholic Church around the world. We must think about opening our doors whether they have been designated a Holy Door or they are just the doors to our hearts so that we can see clearly what we must do as followers of Jesus and pilgrims who walk alongside others so that we can all find peace.