June 25, 2017
Archbishop Paul S. Coakley
People have been on the move as long as human beings have inhabited the planet. Migration is a persistent phenomenon of human history.
Why are people on the move? Often people move from one place to another seeking security in time of war or political unrest or perhaps in search of food in times of famine, a livelihood in time of economic hardship brought on by any number of factors.
Sometimes people are forced to leave their homes because of influences beyond their control (think of slaves brought from Africa to our shores or American Indians forcibly removed from ancestral lands or Christians in Syria and Iraq today being driven out by religious persecution). Of course, at other times people go willingly in search of a better life for themselves or their families.
Salvation history bears witness to the fact of migration as well. Adam and Eve were exiled from Paradise because of their disobedience. Abram was called by God to leave his homeland with his family and go to a Promised Land, which God would show them. Abraham’s descendants migrated to Egypt because of famine only later to be rescued from servitude there and lead by Moses to receive a land of their own. They endured exile in Babylon and later made the journey back to Jerusalem to rebuild the ruined city and Temple. Mary and Joseph were forced to take the infant Jesus and flee to Egypt once again to escape King Herod’s murderous wrath before finally settling in Nazareth.
There is an old French proverb that says, “The more things change the more they stay the same.” One of the obvious signs of our times are these massive movements of people. Today, because of war and hunger, environmental degradation, poverty and insecurity there are more people on the move than at any time in human history. Usually the factors behind these massive shifts in population are closely linked. Today, there are more refugees being forced from their homes because of violence and extreme poverty than at any time since the end of the Second World War.
Immigration is a hot political topic today in the United States and elsewhere. But, it is more than a political issue. It is important to see the challenges posed by immigration (legal and illegal) in their larger context. In our globalized world, we are all connected. It is hopelessly short-sighted to react only to the symptoms of the problem without also addressing its causes. And, undoubtedly these are very complex.
Admittedly, it is hard to see beyond our own limited perspective on such complex matters; matters that are often very personal as well. What frame of reference can we use to help us approach the challenges posed by immigration and migration with greater understanding, wisdom and compassion?
I recently heard a presentation that offered some insight into a larger frame of reference. The speaker began within the heart of the Trinity. “God so loved the world that he sent his own Son” (Jn. 3:16). We know that verse. God sent his Son to migrate into the brokenness and sinfulness of our world to redeem us and to bring us home. We had been separated and alienated from God, one another and our true selves because of our sins. All creation and human history bears the scars and the hopeless burden of its own inability to save itself. The Word of God emptied himself, becoming human like us and sharing our lot in every way, even taking on the guilt of our sin and dying for us.
The Son of God migrated into our world to save us from our sins and to lead us into our true homeland. God became man to save us. In becoming a human being, God became a migrant.
We are all migrants.
Jesus sends his Holy Spirit to accompany us on the journey home. We are not only a pilgrim people, but a migrant people. We are all in this together and the love of Christ urges us to accompany one another, especially those whose burdens are the heaviest or at least those who are closest at hand.
A deeper reflection on our own shared status as migrants searching together for our true and lasting homeland can give us some helpful insight into the insecurities and sufferings of our many brothers and sisters who are migrants, refugees or immigrants.
It may seem that the challenges posed by massive migration of people worldwide, or the refugee crisis in the Middle East or undocumented immigrants here in the United States are beyond our ability to address or even begin to comprehend. But, certainly a good first step is to appreciate that we are all migrants and that every migrant has a story. We need to take time to see the human faces behind the problem and to learn the stories.