On the feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 4, we hear the Gospel story of the Magi from the East journeying to Bethlehem to pay homage to the “newborn king,” the Christ Child. King Herod, however, views the child as a threat to his power, and in a later passage we learn that Joseph flees by night with Jesus and Mary to the safety of Egypt, where they remain until Herod’s death.
In essence, the Holy Family were refugees who escaped the dangers of their homeland for a life together in a new country. Surely, it was a struggle. Joseph would need to find work. The family would have to find shelter. Their friends and family connections were far away.
In many ways, the Holy Family’s plight calls to mind the challenges facing so many of today’s refugee and immigrant families who come to the United States. Some leave their homelands because of threats of violence, others because of extreme poverty and a lack of economic opportunities. All have hopes of starting a new life together.
Unlike Jesus’ family, however, many of today’s immigrant families face the threat of being split apart. Often, fathers and mothers must leave children or spouses behind until they can find a job and adequate housing. Sometimes individuals, including minors, come to the U.S. by themselves to escape gang violence and other threats in their home countries. Even when family members do settle together, one or more members may face detention and deportation policies that separate them and cause severe hardship.
Our Catholic faith obliges us to welcome immigrants and refugees and help them in ways that protect their lives and dignity as children of God, regardless of their legal status. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us about the criteria by which our actions will be judged: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.”
“Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity,” a pastoral statement on immigration written by the U.S. bishops, also reminds us that the presence of our brothers and sisters from different cultures is a gift to society and the church. In the United States, we have always been, and continue to be, an “immigrant church” — one that acknowledges our cultural diversity as well as our common humanity.
The recent executive action taken by the Obama administration will help many immigrants who lack legal status and want to keep their families together. But it is not a replacement for the kind of comprehensive reform that Congress and the president must still agree upon as a permanent solution to fixing our broken system. We still need long-term reform that welcomes those fleeing danger and hopeless poverty, keeps families together and humanely secures our borders.
On this Immigration Sunday, I encourage you to learn more about the church’s teaching on immigration and the issues that newcomers face right here in Minnesota. I also ask you to pray for all immigrants and refugees who are struggling to support their families and keep them together often in very trying circumstances, much like those faced by another family on a journey from Bethlehem to Egypt some two millennia ago.
Bishop of St. Cloud