by Fr. Deusdedit Mulokozi, C.PP.S., Associate Pastor, Sacred Heart Parish, Sedalia, Missouri
After two months at Sacred Heart Parish in Sedalia, Missouri, I traveled to San Antonio, Texas for a course on Mexican American culture called Hispanic Ministry in the 21st Century. It was very impressive in terms of new ideas and surprises about cultures we encounter and live with as one family of God.
The course ranged from learning about culture to intercultural experiences, from reading a lot of information about other cultures to embracing the unique elements found in them and enrich one’s culture. It was a movement from looking at other cultures as a threat, to building bridges among cultures and receiving them as a blessing.
We had a border experience from July 17-20, 2014, traveling five to six hours to get there. It included visiting Mexican families living in colonias, and visiting various community-based associations working with low-income families to help them create the future they wish for and become contributing members of society. It surprised me to visit and serve refugees from Central America. These refugees were received at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen and helped with their basic needs before they could join their relatives in other parts of this country. We also visited the wall built on the border of Mexico and the U.S., between Brownsville and Matamoros.
Through visiting arise and lupe, community-based organizations, we discovered the other America. We divided ourselves into two groups and shared stories with families and learned a lot from their experiences of life. These are the people who have no jobs, their children do not go to school, have no electricity in their homes and they are not sure of getting next meal etc. Certainly, they are living a destitute life. For many of us who were coming from other countries, it was surprising to find people this poor in this first world country.
This place is unique because it acted like the hotel for the man rescued by the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25-37). These people spent more than six days without anything to eat or drink. They carried nothing on the road, walked for miles, and were in the hands of coyotes they had to pay to help get them into the United States. Many of them died on the way from hunger and thirst. But they hoped that it was better to die attempting to save their lives than staying in their home country only waiting to die. This is the best bet, isn’t it?
Listening to their stories, no one would dare call them immigrants rather than refugees. If someone is terrified, forced to leave his or her home because his life and the life of his family is in danger, I don’t know if they fit the label “immigrant,” but I understand the consequences of calling them either refugees or immigrants. This is not the proper moment to debate terms but rather respond to the immediate needs of these people. I remember one story from a family whose child was kidnaped by drug dealers. They demanded $50,000 or they would kill his son. He thought it was a joke. After three days, they cut one of the child’s fingers off and mailed it with a note that if the money is not paid in three days they would cut off all the boy’s fingers and mail them, and in the end, kill him.
Any parent would do anything to save the life of their child. These people are trying to save their lives and the lives of their children. They know in the United States they can find a safe place. This experience reminds me what we read from the Bible that we must, “…show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart” (Zechariah 7:9-10). What needs to be done now is not fight about whether they are immigrants or refugees, but rather make a humanitarian response to an immediate need.
According to the statement by Texas Catholic Bishops on the unaccompanied minors influx, so far this year some 47,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended, with estimates that the number could grow to 90,000 by the end of September.
We must not lose sight that these are young, scared, and desperate mothers and children. They need and deserve our protection and support. Now is not the moment for inflammatory political rhetoric, but of compassionate and orderly resolution to the conditions of people already in a difficult humanitarian situation.
Pope Francis’ universal prayer intention for the month of August is on “refugees, forced by violence to abandon their homes” that they may “find a generous welcome and the protection of their rights.” Let us become instruments of peace, that where there is despair we bring hope, where there is darkness, light, and where there is sadness, joy.