Former Vatican ambassador: Border walls reflect inhumane indifference

Mexican nationals at the Mexican Consulate General in Miami, which is offering legal assistance centers in response to President Donald Trump's measures to deport undocumented migrants. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz) Mexican nationals at the Mexican Consulate General in Miami, which is offering legal assistance centers in response to President Donald Trump's measures to deport undocumented migrants. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

On his first trip outside of Rome, in 2013, Pope Francis traveled to Lampedusa, the island off the coast of southern Italy where African migrants and refugees, many of them Muslims, first enter Europe. There the pope evoked a central theme within the Judeo-Christian story, the practice of hospitality and welcoming God in the presence of strangers (Heb 13:2). Speaking as a child of Italian immigrants to Argentina, the pope named and rejected one of the salient experiences of our times: the globalization of human indifference. He called upon nations to practice hospitality toward refugees and immigrants, as he pointed to the tragedy of human bodies lost at sea “in boats which were vehicles of hope and became vehicles of death.”

In the United States, the practice of welcoming “strangers” does not simply offer Catholics a way to keep Lady Liberty’s promise to accept “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Catholics also welcome these persons as a fundamental expression of Christian faith. As the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples stated in 2004 (“Erga migrantes caritas Christi”), “In migrants the Church has always contemplated the image of Christ who said, ‘I was a stranger and you made me welcome’” (Mt 25:35). In refugees and immigrants, Catholics encounter the dislocated and displaced body of Jesus Christ.

The bridge-building principle that Catholic tradition offers is not an “alternative fact” open to interpretation.

But recent executive orders and policy changes at the federal level with respect to refugees and immigrants, including this week’s new ban on migrants from several predominantly Muslim nations, have torn thousands of families apart. In particular, President Donald J. Trump’s plans to increase deportations will deepen the human suffering of undocumented persons whose primary reason for coming to this country was mere human survival. For Catholics, the issue cannot just be about resisting, repealing and replacing these unjust immigration approaches with just, humane and comprehensive immigration reform. The signs of the times also call for a shift from cultural wars to cultural encounters. Far too many Catholics have signaled approval or remained silent when they hear others undermine the dignity and rights of persons, especially with respect to refugees and immigrants. These conversations construct “walls” that keep people from encountering one another. The human cost of these ideological walls far outweighs the material cost for the concrete wall the president wants to build with our southern neighbor—and no one should be willing to pay the toll of either. Instead, we must build bridges with our neighbors. The bridge-building principle that Catholic tradition offers is not an “alternative fact” open to interpretation. Rather, it represents the cornerstone of Christian belief and practice: The body of Christ knows and has no borders.

Americans critical of this fundamental Catholic teaching, including some Catholic leaders and politicians, may argue that securing the U.S. border should take precedence over issues related to faith and the security of the body of Christ. For American Catholics who share this perspective, the words of John Courtney Murray, S.J., in We Hold These Truths are worth considering: “The Body of Christ is really a-building here in time. And its growth is that of a Body, not simply a soul. There must be no Platonism, which would make man only a soul. The res sacra which grace would achieve is likewise a res humana in the full sense.”

We build bridges with our neighbors because this grace-filled way of relating to others is what will ultimately ensure the greatness of our nation. During this time of growing human indifference in our country and the building of ideological and concrete walls, the words of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama, issued in his 2008 speech at Berlin, remain ever so pressing: “The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.”

James Richard
3 weeks 2 days ago

So a Nation's borders are immoral ? What other purpose do they serve other than to keep people from crossing into the nation illegally ?

Richard Bell
3 weeks 2 days ago

"As the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples stated in 2004 ('Erga migrantes caritas Christi'), 'In migrants the Church has always contemplated the image of Christ who said, "I was a stranger and you made me welcome"' (Mt 25:35). In refugees and immigrants, Catholics encounter the dislocated and displaced body of Jesus Christ."
So writes Mr Díaz, but he is wrong about the Church or the Church is wrong about refugees and migrants. The body of Christ is made up of those who believe in him, and those only. In Matthew 25, which Mr Díaz quotes very selectively, Jesus used the metaphor of his family to state the same qualification; see verse 40: "Just as you [welcomed] one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." The members of Jesus' family are not just anyone, not even Jesus' natural kin, but only those who do God's will. See Mark 3:31-35.
No doubt, some refugees and immigrants are members of Jesus' body (or members of Jesus' family), but there is no good reason for Catholics to think these are more than a small minority of all refugees and immigrants.
I favor "humane and comprehensive immigration reform" and "the practice of hospitality" toward refugees, but not as a matter of specifically Catholic morality. We are commanded to practice Christian charity; we are not commanded to practice general philanthropy.

Thomas Severin
3 weeks 2 days ago

I feel sad for Mr. Bell. He completely misses the most basic and fundamental teachings of Jesus. Jesus spent a major part of His ministry trying to make His Jewish brethren understand that His Father's love and compassion extended well beyond the members of the Jewish nation. Jesus' teachings waged war against any form of "us versus them" tribalism. His message was that all men are created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, God is the Father of ALL regardless of race, gender, ethnicity etc.
I believe that Jesus and the apostles would take great exception to Mr. Bells extremely narrow and partisan interpretation of these verses in Matthew's gospel. The compassion and love shown by the Prodigal Father and Good Samaritan in Luke's gospel reveal an expansive and all encompassing love for human beings, not some select or arbitrary group. It is in the very human act of compassion that is shown to any human being, Christian or not, that shows us to be true followers of Christ. Christ repeatedly extended his forgiveness and healing ministry to people that most Jews considered unworthy of God's mercy or generosity. Recall Zacheus the tax collector, the Syro-Phonecian woman, the centurion and the adulterous woman. None of these people had to meet some predetermined standard to receive Jesus' love and compassion. Jesus calls us to go and do likewise and not to limit our generosity or compassion to members of the "family" only. He said that this is what the pagans or gentiles do. It is Christian love extended to the "undeserving" that distinguishes them from non believers.

Richard Bell
3 weeks 2 days ago

1. “It is in the very human act of compassion that is shown to any human being, Christian or not, that shows us to be true followers of Christ.” Come, now! I know many people who spend a large part of their lives showing very human acts of compassion to any human being, Christian or not, but these very people vehemently scoff at the claims of Christ and express contempt for Christians. If you have experience of American society, you too know many such people. They are not revealed as true followers of Christ by their very human acts of compassion to anyone; they are revealed as philanthropists.
2. “Christ repeatedly extended his forgiveness and healing ministry to people that most Jews considered unworthy of God's mercy or generosity. Recall Zacheus the tax collector, the Syro-Phonecian woman, the centurion and the adulterous woman. None of these people had to meet some predetermined standard to receive Jesus' love and compassion.” Are you implying that I, like most Jews of Jesus’ time, have a false opinion about who is worthy of God’s mercy or generosity? Are you implying that Jesus had no standards? Jesus showed us who qualifies for his forgiveness and healing ministry. All the people you mention had repented of their sins (which implies that they acknowledged God and his moral law) and showed their faith in Jesus as God’s Annointed. Jesus did not extend his forgiveness and healing ministry to unbelievers. Matthew 13:58.
Now, even an enemy of Christ and his Church is created in the image of God and so is entitled to the care and respect that we Christians owe such a creature. Though an enemy, he is to have our love. But the idea that our Christian duties of care and respect and love are the same toward him as they are toward our fellow believers is just sentimental falsehood.

Thomas Severin
3 weeks 1 day ago

Richard, to your first point, I didn't say that everyone who showed compassion to others was Christian. I simply said that when Christians show compassion and generosity to others, then they are demonstrating that they are following Christ's Way. In John's gospel, Jesus says it is by your love for one another that others will know that you are my followers and again, it is a love that stretches beyond that shown to other Christians
Can you actually imagine Jesus saying to His disciples, " You really don't have to show compassion and mercy to others who are not Christian to be one of my followers." This is simply ludicrous.
In your second point, you mention that " all of the people you mention had repented of their sins." I don't know what bible you are reading but the centurion, the Syro-Phonecian women and the adulterous woman didn't repent of any sins.
The adulterous woman was told by Jesus to go and sin no more but she never actually expresses any repentance for what she had been doing. The centurion simply asks Jesus to heal His servant. He doesn't repent of any sin. So too, the Syro-Phonecian woman, she simply asks Jesus for a cure, which He grants.
Also, yes Jesus has very high moral standards for His followers and one of them is that there should be no requirement placed upon the receiver of love and compassion. A true follower of Christ extends these freely to everyone, the good and the bad alike, just as God lets His rain fall on the good and the bad alike.
Your comments represent a stingy kind of love that is only meted out to the supposed "worthy" as if all of us weren't sinners and unworthy of God' gracious love.
Finally, even in the Old testament the Israelite's are commanded to treat the aliens among them as they would their fellow Jew. The same logic applies to followers of Jesus. Non Christians are to be shown the same kind of love that is shown to fellow Christians. To say otherwise is completely contrary to gospel values.

Richard Bell
3 weeks 1 day ago

1. Ah, now you say that a Christian’s showing compassion and generosity to any human being, Christian or not, is the Christian’s way of demonstrating that he is following Christ. Yes, there is a great difference between (a) giving a cup of water and (b) giving a cup of water in the name of Christ, even though that difference may not be discernible by any empirical test. So, there is a great difference between Christian philanthropy and non-Christian philanthropy. But I deny that Christ commanded us, by precept or by example, to show compassion and generosity to any human being in order to demonstrate that we follow Him. “In John's gospel, Jesus says it is by your love for one another that others will know that you are my followers and again, it is a love that stretches beyond that shown to other Christians.” So you assert, but the second clause of your statement contradicts the clear implication of the first, where you rightly observe that Jesus told His followers their love for one another would show the world they are Christians. If Jesus believed that His followers had to behave that same way to anyone in order to show who they are, do you really doubt that Jesus would have said so? Jesus said “your love for one another” instead of “your love for any human being, even one of the Devil’s disciples” and the implication is pretty clear. (By the way, I cannot imagine Jesus’ saying " You really don't have to show compassion and mercy to others who are not Christian to be one of my followers." But you have set up a straw man. The terms “compassion” and “mercy” and “generosity” are so vague and include such a variety of possible actions that it is impossible to say there never could be a Christian duty to show compassion or mercy or generosity to a non-Christian. I have not said this impossible thing, nor can I imagine Jesus’ saying it.) Many people think of the possible actions we may take toward refugees and immigrants and identify those actions they think show compassion or mercy or generosity; then they believe that we, as Christians, must take those actions for all refugees and immigrants. Their reasoning is unsound.
2. “The adulterous woman was told by Jesus to go and sin no more but she never actually expresses any repentance for what she had been doing.” She is not recorded as having uttered words of repentance. Does that imply that she never actually expressed repentance? All others had gone away and left the woman, who stayed with Jesus. What do you think she expressed by hanging around? I think she expressed a desire that Jesus forgive her, which could be motivated only by her conviction that she had sinned. Her action spoke louder than words, and Jesus showed that He understood by giving her what she desired. Your way of interpreting the Bible leads you to shallow understanding. “The centurion simply asks Jesus to heal His servant. He doesn't repent of any sin. So too, the Syro-Phonecian woman, she simply asks Jesus for a cure, which He grants.” A person’s faith in Jesus implies a lot of things, and among the most basic things it implies is that person’s conviction that he is a sinner in need of salvation. Faith implies repentance. So, if the Bible tells us of someone who had faith in Jesus, the Bible tells us of someone who has repented.
3. “Non Christians are to be shown the same kind of love that is shown to fellow Christians. To say otherwise is completely contrary to gospel values.” For Christians, there is just one kind of love: acting to serve another’s best interests according to God’s will. A non-Christian’s best interests according to God’s will would be very different from a Christian’s best interests according to God’s will. You are very much mistaken about gospel values. I make, as an act of love that would not be my duty to a non-Christian, this recommendation to you, a brother in Christ: reread the NT asking yourself what, if anything, it teaches about our specific kinds of duties toward (a) brothers and sisters in Christ and (b) unbelievers. Such an exercise should be performed with continual prayer for an open mind and heart. I once did that, and have a testimony: because I did it, I came to know God’s will for his children much better.

Thomas Severin
3 weeks 1 day ago

Richard, I fear that you are making the classic mistake that all people who misinterpret scripture make. Rather than staying with what the text actually says, you read into it what you want it to say. Why should the adulterous woman staying behind with Jesus be interpreted to mean that she desires to have her sins forgiven? The simplest explanation is that she is staying with Jesus, her protector and savior from the mob, until they dissipate and it is safe to leave. Also, Jesus doesn't tell her that her sins are forgiven, He simply tells her not to sin again. In many other accounts, the desire for forgiveness is made explicit as with the returning prodigal son. Her action of staying behind does not of necessity correlate with a desire to seek forgiveness.
Again, you read a desire for forgiveness into the story of the centurion and his servant, rather than seeing it as miracle story where Jesus heals the servant of a foreigner. Yes, he displays great faith in his belief that Jesus can truly heal his servant and need not be physically present to do so. Whether or not the centurion believed he needed forgiveness from Jesus or later became His follower is pure speculation. If read in the larger context of the scriptures, the story illustrates Jesus extending His compassion and healing power to people who are not Jews but gentiles, yes and an example of what His followers should do also.

B & M NELSON
3 weeks 2 days ago

A problem in many countries (European and the US among others) that have accepted refugees is that some are attempting to impose their standards and culture on their hosts and blatantly violating the norms expected of guests, even as their host countries attempt to accommodate them. Part of the problem may be unrealistic expectations (some return home, from Germany, after finding out that the situation was not what they thought it would be) the lack of real personal support for the refugees (one-on-one vs a classroom presentation).

Canada seems to have managed this in part by relying on groups of citizens to sponsor refugee families. This however requires a lot of volunteers. The following short video is a description of one persons efforts (personal cost over $1,000,000) and about 800 volunteers for refugee families. This approach also reduces the number of refugees to more manageable levels.
https://www.facebook.com/ajplusenglish/videos/910558295752345/

A third issue that "concerns" many people in Western countries it that wealthy Middle Eastern countries are not willing to accept co-religious refugees and a lack of acceptance in South America and safe African countries.

Tom Fields
3 weeks 2 days ago

If I remember right---the Vatican has a wall around it---and a well-armed guard force to keep people.....out!

Tim O'Leary
3 weeks 1 day ago

In welcoming the stranger, the Holy Scriptures and Tradition have always assumed that the stranger was in physical need and was of no threat to the the new society. The Good Book certainly never dealt with suicide bombers! But, that is not the situation today. The DHS released this statement that 300 refugees are being investigated by the FBI for terror ties. That is a very large number, and most are likely ISIS-inspired Muslims.
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/dhs-says-300-refugees-are-being-investigate….

I often hear repeated that many of the US terror attacks are US Citizens and not refugees. But, many of these are still immigrants or sons of immigrants, and have not become loyal US citizens (Boston marathon bombers, Orlando, San Bernadino, etc.). So, it is only prudent to open our doors to strangers 1) who are in the most need, 2) who cannot be better matched to other societies closer to home (e.g. Muslim-majority nations if they are Muslim), 3) who are predisposed to love America and willing to assimilate (i.e. leave Sharia law behind, respect women as equals, etc), 4) who can be screened by their home country for terror connections (not the situation in the 6 nations of the travel ban).

Henry George
3 weeks 1 day ago

A question that would arise in the Ethics class is how many people
must you allow in your lifeboat after the ship you are on has sunk ?

One can argue you must allow everyone to come aboard as it is wrong
to leave anyone in the water.

But then others point out that if the Lifeboat is overloaded it, also, will
sink and everyone will now drown.

A few questions:

Why is it that rich countries in the Middle East are not accepting
refugees like Europe/Canada/America ?

Is it wise to accept people who are adamantly opposed to the
moral/political norms of your country ? Are you not planting
time bombs that will later disrupt your own country.

Do you have any over-riding obligation to the poor or your own
country before those outside your country ? Is it moral for
the Elites to hire anyone but Americans to be their Maids, their
Nannies, their Gardeners ? To turn a blind eye to how Immigrants
are treated by some Companies as nothing more than "Wage Slaves".

If there is an obligation to help those, whose governments kill and persecute, to remove those Dictatorships via the U.N. ?

Is it wrong to regulate Immigration ?

J Cosgrove
3 weeks ago

Is encouraging migration and trying to relocate large numbers to a distant country immoral?

Are those who support refugee rights to relocate far away from their homes doing so for political but immoral reasons? There have been thousands killed in these marches in the last few years and they are asked to settle in places where they cannot assimilate for religious, cultural or economic reasons.

No one advocating the movement of refugees far from their homes should be patting themselves on the back about how superior they are morally when they may in fact be advocating less moral alternatives.

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