“I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.”

Erica Nellessen, left center, from Pasadena, Calif., sings with others at the U.S.-Mexico border fence in San Diego during the 23rd Posada Sin Fronteras (Posada Without Borders) Dec. 10. "Posada" commemorates Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter by before Christ's birth (CNS photo/David Maung).

Originally a post on Father James Martin's public Facebook page, this reflection on the call to treat migrants and refugees as Christ went viral, and the accompanying video has been viewed by over 3 million people and shared over 50,000 times.

“I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.”

President Trump has announced that he will order the construction of a Mexican border wall, the first in a series of actions to crack down on immigrants, which will include slashing the number of refugees who can resettle in the United States, and blocking Syrians and others from what are called “terror-prone nations” from entering, at least temporarily.

These measures, which mean the rejection of the stranger, the rejection of the person in need, the rejection of those who suffer, are manifestly un-Christian and utterly contrary to the Gospel. Indeed, last year, Pope Francis said, "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel."

But maybe you don’t want to listen to Pope Francis. Maybe you think that he was being too political. Or maybe you think Pope Francis is too progressive for you.

Maybe you think that you have a right to refuse a person in need. And that you have the right to protect yourself. Well, we do have the right of self-protection. But refusing the one in need because you want to protect yourself, especially when the other is in desperate need and obvious danger, is not what Christianity is about. It’s about the opposite. It’s about helping the stranger, even if it carries some risk. That’s the Parable of the Good Samaritan in a nutshell.

But if you still don’t want to listen to Pope Francis, then listen to Pope John Paul II, St. John Paul II, who wrote dozens of times about refugees and migrants. “Seek to help our brother and sister refugees in every possible way by providing a welcome…Show them an open mind and a warm heart,” he said. And as if predicting our current situation, he said, "It is necessary to guard against the rise of new forms of racism or xenophobic behavior, which attempt to make these brothers and sisters of ours scapegoats for what may be difficult local situations.”

For this is an issue of life or death. Migrants flee from profound poverty, which causes suffering and can lead to death. Refugees flee from persecution, terror and war, out of fear for their lives. This is, then, one of the church’s life issues, so dear to St. John Paul II.

But maybe you don’t want to listen to St. John Paul. Maybe you’re not Catholic. Then listen to the voice of God in the Book of Exodus, speaking to the people of Israel: “You shall not oppress the resident alien [i.e, the refugee] for you were aliens yourselves once, in the land of Egypt.” Every American heart should be stirred by that. Other than the Native Americans, all of us are descendants of immigrants. We were aliens ourselves once.

But maybe you don’t want to listen to the Old Testament. Then, in the end, listen to Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, he provides a litmus test for entrance into heaven. At the Last Judgment, he will say to people, “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” And people will say, “When were you a stranger and we did not take care of you?’ And he will say, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

Jesus himself is speaking to you from the Gospels. It is Christ whom we turn away when we build walls. It is Christ whom we reject when we slash quotas for refugees. It is Christ whom we are killing, by letting them die in poverty and war rather than opening our doors.

“Today,” St. John Paul II said, “the illegal migrant comes before us like that ‘stranger’ in whom Jesus asks to be recognized. To welcome him and to show him solidarity is a duty of hospitality and fidelity to Christian identity itself.”

So, reject these measures and welcome Christ. Call your local legislators and tell them to care for Christ. Write to the White House and ask them to protect Christ. Show up at town hall meetings and advocate for Christ. And pray for our brothers and sisters who are refugees and migrants.

Because if you do not, and you reject Christ, then it is their prayers that you will need.

Vincent Gaglione
2 months 4 weeks ago

Thank you, Father Martin, for your direct address to this issue of refugees and undocumented immigrants. I was beginning to think that there would be no Catholic response to what Trump has engendered in attitudes and policies. And as much as I appreciate your statements, I must add one more critical comment.

I searched the USCCB website for any such commentary as your own. I looked at Cardinal Dolan's blog and the Catholic New York website. The apparent silence from USA Catholic leaders to preach the Gospel immediately in response to what has been said and done these past few days is frighteningly deafening! I would hope that your comments would become either a homily at every Mass or a reprint in every Catholic Bulletin this Sunday in the USA.

Again, thank you.

alan baer
2 months 3 weeks ago

Yes. My heartfelt gratitude. Thank you Fr. Martin and thank you Vincent for your words, too; they are mine.

D Dressler
2 months 4 weeks ago

When over 72% of Syrian refugees are military aged men-it's not a humanitarian or refugee crisis, it's an invasion. My Catholic Church wants to import these 'refugees' into my community when they have no intention of integration-but want to import their values/religion/customs to my community. The danger they pose to my Mother, Sister, Nieces is real as they do not share our same values and principles, and their view of women is despicable. Help them OVER THERE, do not BRING THEM HERE!

Charissa B
2 months 3 weeks ago

The Gospel has no loopholes. Any exception you think to claim for yourself is only a gateway to that road which separates us from Christ.

I know your fear of these brothers and sisters is mighty, but place your trust in He who overcame the world, and let your faith be strengthened. Perfect love casts out all fear; may it soon be so for you.

Ryder Charles
2 months 4 weeks ago

Thank you, Father Martin, for speaking up for refugees.

I would like to see a consistent defense of all refugees. Just before his term of office expired, President Obama repealed the "Wet Foot, Dry Foot" policy concerning Cubans fleeing Cuba.

"Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal," Obama said. "By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries."

No matter what argument one makes for this new policy it ultimately comes down to not welcoming the stranger. We must put our ideological loop holes aside and welcome all strangers. Here are some quotes from Cuban refugees stranded in Mexico and other parts of Latin America:

“Obama’s decision is killing our dreams,” said Yancys Riccart, 25, a teaching assistant, who said her journey took her through Guyana, Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia. She said she was worried she would be mistreated or not given work by Cuban authorities if she went back home.

Víctor Berrios, a deacon for Roman Catholic charity Caritas, urged the migrants not to rush into the hands of people traffickers to reach the US, reminding them that President-elect Donald Trump could reinstate the law when he assumes the presidency on 20 January.

“Be patient, we know that from the 20th there will be another government. Do not lose hope. Have faith,” Berrios said.

Now, these quotes are from the UK Guardian, hardly a mouth-piece for Trump supporters. I urge all Christians to shed their biases and to proclaim the full Gospel in all situations.

Robert Killoren
2 months 4 weeks ago

This weekend is all about Beatitudes. Very counter-culture, very politically incorrect. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Raymond Marey
2 months 4 weeks ago

Charity is essential to Christianity. It is our lifeblood. The good Samaritan helped a non-Samaritan on the side of the road. The leap of logic you make is to assume help requires giving citizenship.
To not support the great people of our intelligence community which has seen an increase in terrorist acts on our soil and has consistently warned that RIT's will use mass migration to create more problems, is just foolish, Memories can be short, but there was no outrage when President Carter shut down immigration from Iran just foiur decades ago. We can help in other ways, but as a Catholic I have seen the black and white thinking of Catholics. Ironically now that we have a ProLife president it's not good enough for many Catholics. Perfect isn't happening in our time. The third reich wanted a perfect world too and we know what a debacle that was.

Daniel Shazzar
2 months 4 weeks ago

I respectfully disagree with the assertion that the "litmus test" for entrance into heaven can be properly exegeted from the text you quote in the Gospel according to Matthew 25 (I was a stranger......) Jesus is speaking to the goats prospectively - those on his left who have not placed their trust in him for his finished work (John 19:30) on the cross. Please refer to John 3:36 and 5:24 instead for the true litmus test.

In contrast, good works to strangers or neighbors are the fruit of those that are saved - the sheep. May those that have ears to hear, hear the voice of the Son of God.

Vincent Gaglione
2 months 3 weeks ago

Your exegesis of Matthew and John leaves me baffled. Are you saying that only believers, the sheep, will produce the good works of welcoming the strangers? Interesting! The instruction to welcome strangers originates in Jewish tradition and, by your reckoning, Jews are goats. So then, am I to presume that the Christian citizens who support the ban are not believers, that they are the goats as well of Matthew 25? Your exegesis to my mind is distorted and lacking.

Daniel Shazzar
2 months 3 weeks ago

No and no to answer your two questions. God bestows common grace to all people and saving grace to many. All people are capable of good works like welcoming strangers. My response was limited to the misuse of Matthew 25 to exhort people to welcome strangers as a motivation to merit "entrance into heaven". Why are you so baffled by how Jesus distinguishes between the sheep and the goats? All non-believers are goats, regardless of ethnicity. His sheep hear His voice and listen to His instruction - do you?

Vincent Gaglione
2 months 3 weeks ago

In reply to your last question, I like to believe that we all try to listen and hear. Having been a teacher for many years, I also know that listening and hearing do not always translate into comprehension and understanding, which motivated my original response to you. Your understanding of the texts obviously differs greatly from my own.

Daniel Shazzar
2 months 3 weeks ago

Yes it does. But I do agree with your point regarding the variance in comprehension and understanding. So does the Apostle Paul - when he explained why that is in his first letter to the Corinthians stating "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."
(1 Cor 2:14)

Robert Killoren
2 months 3 weeks ago

At the last judgment, Jesus divides people into sheeps and goats based upon whether or not they have loved and cared for him in the people who are least in this world (e.g., refugees). He puts with the sheep those who have fed the poor, given drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger... He does not divide them between believers and non-believers. That's the whole point of the parable. I read on many "traditionalist" websites the interpretation that you have given. They read very much like those who believe themselves righteous by virtue of their status in the world.

He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. “Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’ But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted." (LK 16:9-14)

Daniel Shazzar
2 months 3 weeks ago

Not sure what you mean by "traditionalist" interpretation but no where did I express or intend to imply that righteousness can be obtained own our own. Jesus is clear here in the parable you reference (LK 18 actually) that to be declared justified (I.e. righteous before God) one must be humbled enough to acknowledge this fact. Rather, it is the righteousness OF God (Phillipians 3) that is applied to those that are "in Christ" (i.e. Believers) that is required to be deemed sheep or goat. Further, I can identify with Paul when he wrote: 15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; 16 but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Tim 1)

Robert Killoren
2 months 3 weeks ago

Today's message in the liturgy (4th sunday) is that Jesus' message is counterintuitive and counter culture. It says we need to be righteous and just even if that means persecution.
reading 1: seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of the LORD's anger.
reading 2: God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something.
Gospel: Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. The path of Jesus includes martyrdom for some. But if we do not live up to the demands of discipleship then we ask for God's mercy and forgiveness. Jesus certainly knows what it takes to put your life on the line to be faithful to God. Love calls us to extremes.

Michael Barberi
2 months 3 weeks ago

Welcoming the stranger and hospitality are virtues. However, while all the virtues should be governed by love, they also must be governed by another virtue called prudence. Clearly our neighbors who are suffering in other parts of the world and want to immigrate to the US should be given a reasonable and compassionate pathway. In a crisis we should welcome the stranger disadvantaged by war and violence, poverty and extreme hardship...within reason. Reason does not mean 'open borders' or allowing millions of migrants to enter the U.S. from countries where terrorism exists without a prudent and effective screening process.

To propose we strengthen the security of our borders and vetting processes in a time when ISIS has told the world that their terrorists will be hiding among the migrants to kill as many of us as possible is a cause of concern for all of us.

If anyone can comprehensively argue that our vetting process is adequate, I would like to know why Obama's Heads of Homeland Security, the CIA, FBI, et al, have testified that they cannot guarantee our current vetting processes will substantially screen all potential terrorists. Given this fact, prudence and right reason would dictate that our vetting process should be strengthen and some "temporary" measures implemented. This is what Trump is doing but I disagree that migrants from Syria should be banned from entering the US indefinitely. Prudence should allow us to take some risk as long as it if not foolhardiness by adopting ineffective screening processes. It should allow for the best and reasonable screeing criteria given the circumstances. If Trump's executive order is taking things 'to far' (and I don't agree with every point of his executive order) then I am open to a good convincing argument that balances all the factors and I would condemn any measure that is unreasonable given that most migrants are good people who are not terrorists.

While Fr. Martin's heart is in the right place, applying a biblical message about welcoming the stranger and implying that Trump's temporary measures are a violation of the Lord's commandment, "without adequately recognizing and balancing our current security and immigration concerns", is stretching things too far. Most Catholics want to welcome the stranger. However, given all the terrorist inspired killings of innocent people in the US over the past several years is reason to be cautious, which is another virtue.

Douglas Fang
2 months 3 weeks ago

Thank you, Father Martin, for this article. I came here as a refugee myself and I keenly understand the agony created by this deplorable order. I leave it up to God to make the final judgment. It seems that the division created by Trump is reaching deep into the Catholic community too.

I just want to share a few relevant articles…

Remember the statement “Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional”? This is from the very “brave” Mike Pence a while back before he became VP. It is so pitiful and typical for the politicians. There is no honor in their behavior whatsoever…
http://www.marketwatch.com/story/new-life-for-mike-pences-tweet-calling…

Remember this – America has a long history of treating immigrants like garbage.
http://thereformedbroker.com/2017/01/29/to-my-jewish-irish-asian-and-it…

Hopefully, this is one will also pass…Unless America has lost its identity...
http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/letter-from-washington-how-am…

D Elle
2 months 2 weeks ago

People are supposed to ignore the rapes and crimes being committed by 'asylum seekers' including Muslims, because there are good people among them?

Broad stroking is bad either way- to broad stroke all Muslims and asylum seekers as bad is wrong just as broad stroking all Muslims and asylum seekers as good and benevolent, is error also.

The situation is far more complex. There is a very real culture clash going on let's not deny that fact. It is wrong and a disservice to the victims such as these:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.express.co.uk/news/world/739620/Maria-…

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3561786/Married-migrant-raped-t…

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3484307/Teenage-migrant-rapes-A…

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3484046/Migrant-abducts-mother-…

https://www.google.com/amp/www.aljazeera.com/amp/news/2017/01/rrdp-wome…

Ignoring it won't make it go away.

Harley Danielson
2 months ago

Crazy I have met a lot of fraudsters claiming to be hackers but kept ripping me off money, not until I met one off the darkweb who brought me out of my mystery and reuniting my wife back to me. I have forgiven her for all her disloyalty and atrocities he did in the past. Why not tell your situation to this hacker, he just might be your savior also. Besides I guess he does other hacking services (grades change, phone cloning, emails hacking and so on). text 19193076946 or darkwebsolutions at hackermail dot com

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Death-row inmate Ledell Lee. A ruling from the state Supreme Court allowing officials to use a lethal injection drug that a supplier says was misleadingly obtained cleared the way for Arkansas to execute Ledell Lee on Thursday, April 20, 2017, although he still had pending requests for reprieve. (Arkansas Department of Correction via AP)
To take Holy Communion in the face of death is to say that it is fellowship, and not food, that matters most.
Terrance KleinApril 26, 2017
A man rides a bicycle past a billboard with an image of Pope Francis April 26 ahead of the pontiff's April 28-29 visit to Cairo. (CNS photo/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters)
“Peace be with you” was the message of the Risen Jesus to his disciples on the first Easter, and it is the message Francis will bring to the Muslim and Christian communities in this land.
Gerard O'ConnellApril 26, 2017
Pope Francis is presented with a football helmet by Michigan football team coach Jim Harbaugh during the weekly general audience at the Vatican, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)
Coach Jim Harbaugh presented a custom Wolverines helmet and a pair of Nike Air Jordan sneakers to Pope Francis.
Michael J. O'LoughlinApril 26, 2017
The 'Hamlet'-inspired play made the playwright Tom Stoppard an overnight sensation.
David StewartApril 26, 2017