(EDITOR'S NOTE: Faith Matters is a column written by the social concerns committee of the United Churches of Lycoming County. The monthly feature will include local faith-based comment on significant social issues facing us today. Letters reacting to the columns should be brief and clear and may be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in the columns are those of the writers and the social concerns committee, not necessarily the Sun-Gazette.)
My maternal grandfather, Daniel Donohue, came to this country in 1895 when he was 22. He left a small island off the southwest coast of Ireland where poverty was so severe that twice in the early 1880s a boat came and people were paid to leave the island so as to reduce the remote island's population. Like many who came before him and since, my grandfather faced very challenging economic conditions that in effect pushed him to emigrate. From him I acquired my name, my love of history and an understanding about some of the realities of immigration.
The knowledge of one's own family history and the inspiration of faith can inspire people to welcome the newcomer whom some might consider as a "stranger." Many faith traditions have come together and are advocating that significant changes to immigration policies be enacted in the next few months. Now is the time to heed these words that Jesus said: "I was a stranger and you welcome me. ... Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:35, 40). Jesus made clear that He is present in all people whether they are documented or not.
A broad coalition of faith leaders has identified the essential elements of immigration reform. These include:
An earned path to citizenship for the 11 million people in the United States without authorization.
The priority of family reunification in any immigration reform.
Protecting the integrity of our borders.
Protecting due process for immigrants and their families.
Improving refugee protection laws and asylum laws.
Reviewing international economic policies to address the root causes of unauthorized immigration.
Recently I read, along with others in our church's book discussion group, "Our God is Undocumented: Biblical Faith and Immigrant Justice" by Ched Myers and Matthew Colwell. Myers shows how prophetic hospitality is present throughout much of the Bible. People of faith are called to serve the vulnerable - most often identified as widows, orphans and strangers. Colwell tells the difficult stories of those who have come without documentation and of those who have worked to make real God's love through hospitality. The combination of the words of scripture and the personal stories provides a stimulating and challenging lesson that one cannot ignore.
So what needs to be done? A good place to start is to recall or learn one's personal story regarding how the immigrant experience touched the lives of one's family. Seeing a personal face for what is otherwise seen as an abstract issue helps promote an intellectual and emotional understanding. Then being open to God's central commandment to love others and reflecting on the call today to prophetic hospitality will enable us to take action. We need to contact both the White House and Congress now to state our support for comprehensive immigration reform based on the elements listed above.
When I was a young child growing up in New York City, my parents took me to visit the Statue of Liberty. I began to learn about the welcoming spirit that this nation represented. Later, when my grandfather lived with us, my curiosity about the immigrant experience was sparked. As an adult, I have learned more about the historical complexities of the history of immigration. Fortunately I also have been empowered by faith to see God in the face of everyone. With this awareness, the need for a just reform to immigration policies is clear.
- Doyle is a member of Resurrection Catholic Church in Muncy, a member of the United Churches Christian Social Concerns Committee and a retired history professor at Pennsylvania College of Technology.