Each year across Minnesota, on the feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, Catholics mark Immigration Sunday (this year Jan. 5). In sacred art we see the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt in search of safe haven from King Herod, who wanted to kill the infant Jesus in an effort to prevent his reign as our eternal King.
Many of us can barely fathom the fear and terror felt by these new parents, entrusted by God to raise his son so that in the not-so-distant future Christ could fulfill his vocation as the savior of all mankind.
On Immigration Sunday, we are reminded that many of our neighbors can fathom the terror felt by the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. They have lived it.
Let’s be in solidarity with them on Jan. 5 and throughout the year.
Welcome Christ in the stranger
Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas and at the end of time. It also challenges us to welcome him when he comes to us in other ways, particularly through the people we encounter every day. Every human person is created in the image and likeness of God and therefore imbued with a sacred dignity we must respect and protect. This is especially true when it comes to the poor and vulnerable.
This is why the decision by the current federal administration to set a new 40-year low on the number of refugees allowed into the United States (just 18,000 refugees in 2020) is so concerning. This is happening even as globally we are experiencing the largest displacement of people in human history.
It can be difficult to welcome the stranger in our midst. It can also be difficult to be the stranger who is not welcomed by those in their midst.
Many individuals and communities might feel unsure about how to even begin to welcome people who have different habits, cultural practices, modes of living, languages and religions. These uncertainties can lead to a natural fear of the unknown. However, we must also not forget that these fears of the unknown are shared by our refugee and migrant neighbors.
As Catholics it is our duty to welcome the stranger in our midst. That challenge extends to all people of good will, including migrants and refugees, and people who have lived here their entire lives.
A challenge to our migrant and refugee community members: Be patient with those for whom your presence may be challenging. Rather than condemn them as racist or xenophobic, extend a hand of friendship. Help them get to know you by showing your mutual respect, gratitude and commitment to the common good.
A challenge to citizens in our congregations: Seek out conversation with your newly arrived neighbors. Get to know their stories and hopes for their lives in their new home. Extend a hand of friendship.
Overcoming fear of the unknown
To help individuals, families, parishes and communities create a welcoming environment that can bring healing to the fear and division in our society, Minnesota Catholic Conference is providing a wealth of resources for observing Immigration Sunday. Visit mncatholic.org/immigrationsunday for a scriptural rosary, prayers of the faithful, event planning and other resources.
Everyone is also encouraged to contact Minnesota’s senators to thank them for their support of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients and ask for their support of the Dream Act of 2019. Visit mncatholic.org/actioncenter or call U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar 202-224-3244 and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith 202-224-5641.
At a time when our nation is reeling from the side effects of increasingly divisive political rhetoric and an immigration system in desperate need of comprehensive reform, let us begin by reforming our own hearts and communities.
Let Immigration Sunday and the feast of our Lord’s Epiphany be a catalyst for Minnesota Catholics to show their commitment to welcoming migrants and refugees in our communities. By accompanying our immigrant neighbors in person and in prayer, we can help them integrate into the communities they call home and show that we welcome Christ in them.
Cross is Minnesota Catholic Conference communications manager.
Minnesota Catholic Conference staff are hearing more reports of people whose religious liberty — that is, the living expression of their faith in school, in the workplace and in ministry, among other places — is being challenged. If you are being attacked for your faith or coerced into violating its tenets, please contact MCC at 651-227-8777 or [email protected]. There are attorneys who may be able to assist you.
There are three areas, in particular, where conflicts between religious faith and secular norms are coming into conflict: 1) challenges to businesses and counselors related to same-sex unions; 2) the imposition of gender identity ideology in schools and workplaces; and 3) ministries that serve migrants and refugees.
If you believe that your rights as a parent, professional, student or minister are being violated because you wish to live by the integrated sexual identity and Christian anthropology proposed by the Church, or because you wish to serve undocumented immigrants, please contact MCC.
Many attorneys will take on these cases pro bono (that is, for free) or at a minimal cost. Sadly, some have already spoken with attorneys and have incurred significant costs without seeking assistance. You don’t need to endanger your financial security to protect your rights. We may not be able to connect you with a pro bono attorney in every instance, but it is worth asking.
Furthermore, your case may help others by setting an important precedent in the courts. Right now, the federal courts in Minnesota are favorable to religious liberty claims, and these cases should be brought whenever possible to clarify that religious freedom cannot be burdened absent a compelling governmental interest. Please pray for all those who bravely work to secure religious freedom for themselves and others.