Migration Mass – January 2007

It is no coincidence that the Catholic Church here in the United States begins its celebration of National Migration Week with today’s solemn feast of the Epiphany.  This feast recalls how to the Magi Jesus was revealed or “manifested” as the Savior of the nations.

The Magi came to Bethlehem, “going into the house they saw the child with Mary his Mother and they fell down and worshipped him”. (Mt. 2: 11)   These mysterious wise men symbolize the nations beyond Israel. Jesus came to save them as well – and not just the Jews.

Epiphany reminds us that God’s offer of salvation in Jesus Christ is “catholic”.  “Catholic” of course comes from the Greek word meaning universal.  And if, God’s salvation is “catholic”, then the Church which is the Sacrament of the Salvation in the world must also be “catholic” – catholic not only because of the fullness of her doctrine, faithful to the totally of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ – but catholic in its make-up. “Going into the house they saw the child with Mary his Mother…”  This “going into the house” where the Magi encountered Jesus in some sense represents the Church.  In order to find the Savior, one has to enter the house, which is the Church.

We are one family – brothers and sisters of one Father – not through flesh and blood but through water and the Holy Spirit.  As a Catholic people made up of many ethnicities and nationalities, speaking different languages with different cultures we are one in Christ – and in Christ, we recognize that through our diversity we can enrich each other.  For in the Body of Christ, diversity does not divide us – only sin can divide us; but, Christ is stronger than sin.

Today, as we observe Migration Week, we wish to once again recommit ourselves to making this house, this Church of ours, a home where all can feel at home.

At the same time, this year’s observance of National Migration Week has as its theme, “Welcoming Christ in the Migrant”.  We recall the parable of the Last Judgment also in Matthew’s gospel:  “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

As we reflect on the immigrant experience, we can draw a parallel to Jesus’ coming among us as man and a newcomer’s arrival in a strange land.  In this perhaps, our reflection will help us contemplate the face of Jesus in the visage of the immigrant.  In last year’s the divisive debates on immigration reform, too often immigrants – especially the undocumented -were demonized, seen as threats, and not as our brothers and sisters, or even among the “least” of his brothers and sisters.

The xenophobic politics of 2006 focused on the “illegal immigrant” as a problem and thus obscured the human face of immigration. Dramatic, get-tough arrests of more and more average workers will not solve our immigration crisis. In fact, such actions often engender more confusion and bitterness. The real problem is not the immigrant but the broken system that cynically tolerates a growing underclass of vulnerable people, outside the protection of the law.  Their labor is needed yet the present immigration regime does not provide them or their employers with the necessary avenues which would allow them to access the system and become legal. No human being should be reduced to being a “problem”.  Such reductive thinking demonizes the “illegal immigrant” and ultimately dehumanizes us all.

Like the immigrant who arrives to our land, the Eternal Son of God through his Incarnation pitched his tent in our midst.  And like Jesus who was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn, today, even while they toil as jobs that Americans can not or will not do, immigrants hear again what Mary and Joseph heard in Bethlehem two millennia ago: there is no room in the inn for you.  And like many of you here today, Jesus too was a refugee, a political refugee forced to flee from the despotic tyranny of King Herod.

The Mysterious star led the Magi to the Christ Child.  Certainly, they must have been surprised by what they found at the end of their journey.  We can be sure this new King to whom they now paid homage was not what they expected.  Remember they first went to Jerusalem, to King Herod. They, like we must, had to learn that God is not as we usually imagine him to be. The light of the star led them not to the rich palaces of Jerusalem but to a humble hovel in Bethlehem.  There the light of the star was replace with they light of faith so that they might recognized in the Baby in his Mother’s arm the Promised King for whom they had searched.  Surprised by God, they had to change their ideas – about power, about God, about man.  They had to change themselves.  There encounter with Christ called them to conversion.  This conversion is symbolized by they’re returning home “a different way”.

This year’s National Migration Week theme, Welcoming Christ in the Migrant, is also a call to conversion.  We need the light of faith to enlighten us, as the light of faith enlightened the Magi – so that we might see Christ in the Migrant.

As shepherds of the flock entrusted to us, we, the Catholic Bishops of the United States pledge to continue to work for more just immigration laws – laws that help unite families not divide them, laws that help integrate newcomers by making them stakeholders within the system and not laws that for lack of fair remedies continue to marginalize and isolate men and women who only want the opportunity to make an honest living.

The newcomer –regardless of legal status – is a human person, he is a brother, she is a sister with a claim on our solidarity.    And because of that solidarity we must build not walls but bridges.   May the Star of Bethlehem which guided the Magi on their journey and sustained their hope be always the point of reference to help all peoples find their way to Christ.