Untying the selfishness which binds us

On Columbus Day, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha preached to a full congregation at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption about Pope Francis’ promotion of “Share the Journey,” a project of the Catholic Church to promote understanding of the lives of immigrants and refugees. In his introductory remarks at the beginning of the Mass (which was the annual Mass for Peace, held since the 1970s in October), our bishop said that the Holy Father asked us to “pray for the immigrants and refugees, so that God will continue to inspire us to be builders, instruments of peace.”

The lack of peace in so many countries of the world is often the cause of migrant flows from one country to another, as people seek to find a place where they can live without the fear of death at the hands of a dictatorial government, a terrorist organization or a brutal gang. “Someone’s selfishness made them have to leave their own home,” our bishop noted. Later in his homily he enumerated reasons people had to flee: “to find safety from violence, to get away from civil wars, to avoid having their daughters taken for the sex trade and their sons forced into wars or gangs.”

Bishop da Cunha said that “we all want [peace],” but the lack of peace in our world is rooted in “selfishness, lack of faith, and a resistance to conversion. [In] all of the acts of violence and all of the lack of peace, deep down there is someone being selfish.”

“The need to pray for peace and promote justice and welcoming the stranger is so necessary today and is so much of what we’re called to be.” However, the bishop added, “prayer needs to be accompanied by actions.” He then called upon everyone to respect their neighbors, including those who are different from them.

The bishop asked, regarding the immigrants and refugees amongst us, “do they find welcome?” Mentioning the Holy Father’s new campaign, Bishop da Cunha said, “These are the people Pope Francis challenges us to embrace and to hold dear to our hearts. He invites us to consider how Jesus would respond to those desperate children of God.”

Since the Peace Mass is always celebrated before a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, the bishop reminded the congregation that the message of Fatima is “conversion, accepting God’s plan. We need to incarnate that message for today. She didn’t go to Fatima to create tourism, but for the transformation of each person and of the world.”

Later in the week, on Saturday, October 14, the bishop returned to the cathedral to celebrate the Red Mass (the Mass of the Holy Spirit, invoking the Spirit’s guidance upon the legal community in our area). He quoted the famous line from Blessed Paul VI, “If you want peace, work for justice.” To that, he added, “Justice is the foundation for peace and for a peaceful world. Anger, resentment, which in many cases leads to violence, comes from the reality or the perception — wrong as it may be — that one was not treated fairly, that justice was denied.”

At the Red Mass the bishop was preaching on the readings for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, including the Gospel (Mt 22:1-14) in which the king (standing in for God in the parable), orders regarding the person who came to His banquet without a “wedding garment,” “Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

The bishop drew a contrast between this punishment and what Jesus ordered be done to the resurrected Lazarus (Jn 11:44), “Untie him and let him go.” Our shepherd then localized these Gospels and said, “We all need to be untied, to be let go free. What are the things that I need to free myself from? How can I help others be free? What to they need to be freed from?”

The answers the bishop was driving at with his questions were situations of selfishness and sin — either of the person themselves or sins of others, which were binding innocent victims. Into these situations, the bishop was calling upon us to be “ambassadors for Christ,” to bring true freedom to people.

Pope Francis in August released his annual message for World Migration Day, which will be observed on Jan. 14, 2018. He entitled it, “Welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees.” In the message he discusses how we are to do each of those actions.

“[W]elcoming means, above all, offering broader options for migrants and refugees to enter destination countries safely and legally. This calls for a concrete commitment to increase and simplify the process for granting humanitarian visas and for reunifying families. The principle of the centrality of the human person, firmly stated by my beloved predecessor, Benedict XVI, obliges us to always prioritize personal safety over national security,” Pope Francis wrote.

“The second verb — protecting — may be understood as a series of steps intended to defend the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees, independent of their legal status. Such protection begins in the country of origin, and consists in offering reliable and verified information before departure, and in providing safety from illegal recruitment practices. I hope that, in countries of arrival, migrants may be offered freedom of movement, work opportunities, and access to means of communication, out of respect for their dignity. The universal right to a nationality should be recognized and duly certified for all children at birth. Migratory status should not limit access to national health care and pension plans, nor affect the transfer of their contributions if repatriated,” the Holy Father explained.

“Promoting essentially means a determined effort to ensure that all migrants and refugees — as well as the communities which welcome them — are empowered to achieve their potential as human beings, in all the dimensions which constitute the humanity intended by the Creator. We must recognize the true value of the religious dimension, ensuring to all foreigners in any country the freedom of religious belief and practice.  Many migrants and refugees have abilities which must be appropriately recognized and valued. I encourage a determined effort to promote the social and professional inclusion of migrants and refugees, guaranteeing for all — including those seeking asylum — the possibility of employment, language instruction and active citizenship, together with sufficient information provided in their mother tongue.”

“The final verb — integrating — concerns the opportunities for intercultural enrichment brought about by the presence of migrants and refugees. Integration is not ‘an assimilation that leads migrants to suppress or to forget their own cultural identity. Rather, contact with others leads to discovering their “secret,” to being open to them in order to welcome their valid aspects and thus contribute to knowing each one better. This is a lengthy process that aims to shape societies and cultures, making them more and more a reflection of the multi-faceted gifts of God to human beings’ (here Pope Francis quoted St. John Paul II). I reiterate the need to foster a culture of encounter in every way possible — by increasing opportunities for intercultural exchange, documenting and disseminating best practices of integration, and developing programs to prepare local communities for integration processes.” 

May we carry this out.

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