|April 3, 2017 • VOL. 55, NO. 7 • Oakland, CA|
How Jesus reached out to the despised
The Gospel today is the story of the woman at the well. She was not only a woman, who was basically treated as lower in rank than the men, but also a sinner. But, more so than a woman and a sinner, she was a Samaritan. She represents those who were treated as strangers or foreigners, marginalized, despised, discriminated against in Jewish society during Jesus' time. Jesus reached out to them.
They face the "go back to your country" slurs. They live in fear. They don't call the police when there's a break-in. They think twice before they bring a sick child to the emergency room. They work in menial jobs that few people want: dishwashers, waiting on tables in small restaurants or in the farms.
While the majority were born in Mexico, almost half are from other countries: China, India, the Philippines, Central and South American countries. And a relatively smaller percentage are white. There is a growing sense of fear in their communities due to the increasing number of raids of the Immigration and Customs agents, or ICE. Because of fear, many are having mental health issues, including the children. The Catholic Charities of the East Bay reported that in one community, more than half the children were afraid to go to school.
Those children are especially vulnerable. Those who were born here are U.S. citizens. If their parents are deported, who would care for them? And some of the older children and adults were brought here very young. They know of no other country except the U.S.
Certainly, undocumented immigrants have violated immigration laws. But most have been driven here by severe poverty in their own country where earning a living wage for survival is impossible. Is it a crime to be poor? Is it a crime to want to better the lives for their family? Coming to America is fraught with danger. Many never make it. Some are murdered. Young women are raped. But the lure of a better life for their family is very strong.
Outside of violating immigration laws, most undocumented immigrants are law-abiding people. They pay their taxes. They are not a drain to society. They make contributions to Social Security through their employer, and yet, they cannot expect any benefit when they are too old to work. I have a friend who has been here for over 30 years. She ran away from an abusive husband. She came here to try to help her children back in the Philippines. She is old and diabetic. But, she cannot stop working. There is no retirement for her. If she stops working, she will not have any money for herself and for her children. I suspect she will continue working until she drops dead.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) says that in Catholic Catechism, the government has two duties. The first duty is to welcome the foreigner out of charity and respect for the human person. Persons have the right to immigrate and thus government must accommodate this right to the greatest extent possible, especially financially blessed nations: (Catholic Catechism, 2241). The second duty is to secure one's border and enforce the law for the sake of the common good. Just so we are clear, I don't think the Church is advocating an open border. It is making a plea for social justice.
Indeed we must secure our borders and enforce our laws, but we are, first and foremost, people of faith. We must understand and respect the rights of people to try to come to the U.S., and we must understand and respect the rights of the undocumented immigrants. They should not be treated like criminals. They have the right to remain silent when interrogated, a right to an attorney and a right not to be searched without a search warrant, and a right to be treated with dignity. A Hispanic priest in our diocese said that among Latinos, to be called and treated like a criminal is a terrible thing. A criminal is one who has committed a crime like stealing or breaking in; assault, rape or murder.
What can we do as people of God? First, educate ourselves about our Catholic position on immigration reform. Go to the USCCB website and read "The Catholic Position On Immigration Reform." Two, go to the Diocese of Oakland website and read Bishop Michael Barber's statement regarding President Trump's executive orders on immigrants and refugees. I would like to quote a portion of it:
"'The Catholic Church' … stands with the immigrant, refugee, and migrant community. We oppose actions that promote fear and hostility towards people of all faiths and nationalities. We remain committed to our mission of welcoming the stranger through legal services, refugee resettlement, education and community outreach. …
"Our country has welcomed people fleeing religious or political persecution, war, poverty or violence since its founding. The spirit and tenacity of our shared immigrant ancestry has shaped and defined our nation. As a faith community, the Catholic Church is an immigrant church with a long history of embracing newcomers and caring for migrants.
We know the stories of persecution, violence and oppression that drive people — including children — from their homelands seeking safe haven in the United States. Despite the rhetoric of fear, we believe that people of good will and conscience understand that for many this is a life or death situation, and (we) choose to be on the side of life."
As Jesus reached out to the Samaritan woman, we should reach out to undocumented immigrants. I have here a few cards, in English and Spanish, which state their rights. If you know anyone who is undocumented, get a card from me, make copies and give it to him or her. If you know that he or she needs a lawyer, tell him or her to go to the Catholic Charities of the East Bay website and call their immigration legal services. The phone number of the lawyers is also posted on our bulletin board. It is wise to keep that number in our wallet.
As you leave the church after Mass, please remember what Jesus said. I was thirsty and you gave me water to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me. If you ask "when did we give you water to drink, Lord? When did we welcome you?" Jesus answers, "Whatsoever you did to the least of my people, you did unto me." God bless you all.
(This was Deacon Noe Tuason's homily at Mass celebrated on March 19, the third Sunday of Lent on the Gospel about the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:5-42) at St. John the Baptist Parish, San Lorenzo.)
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