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1/5/2017 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
Focusing our prayers during National Migration Week
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


In his message for the World Day of Peace (Jan. 1), Pope Francis calls attention to the effects of war and violence on those human beings who are most vulnerable. Among them are migrants, the infirm, the unemployed, those imprisoned and the unborn.

War and violence break things, rupture relationships and displace people from the safety of their homes. As we pray for migrants in the weeks following our Jan. 8 celebration of the Epiphany, the consequences of war and violence in the displacement of families and vulnerable people could hardly be more graphic.

Those pouring into the United States through our southern border are largely (though not exclusively) from Central American countries, where gangs, drugs and violence have rendered neighborhoods socially and economically unstable, dangerous and disruptive -- especially to young people who, without employment, cannot support themselves, let along even contemplate a family.

In Europe, we see hordes of migrants from war-ravaged countries in the Middle East and Africa virtually pounding at the doors -- sometimes even violently -- seeking refuge in countries with Christian and other humanitarian sensibilities that now find their resources strained beyond capacity.

Again, most of the recent migrants are seeking refuge from the war and violence that has driven them away from their homelands, where they would otherwise, no doubt, prefer to have remained.

A different force led the Magi who traveled from "the East." They came to Bethlehem not to escape, but to find the truth, represented to them by a shining star. They saw in the cradle, where the infant Savior lay, a goal and a meaning that they worshipped and venerated. That would change their lives forever.

Some of that hope and wonder drives immigrants. The host country represents hope for something better, more secure, more stable. Unfortunately, this hope does not always materialize, as differences of culture, religion and language turn encounters into conflicts, creating enormous economic, political and legal challenges for the receiving countries.

Some 250 years of historical experience in a country whose very origins are synonymous with refugees from political and religious oppression leads most of us, one might say, constitutionally to open our minds and hearts to immigrants.

Yet, we can empathize with both migrants and host countries losing patience, strained beyond their limits. Quite clearly, resolution seems almost impossible without peace and stability in the homelands from which the waves of migrants are coming today.

As we pray and work for solutions, two temptations need to be resisted, each of which would make the task more difficult, if not impossible. As we seek to navigate through troubled waters, these two temptations are like the mythical rocks, Scylla and Charybdis, which, in our current context, would wreck the ship of state seeking safe passage through two bad alternatives.

The first temptation is a romanticized appeal to an idealized America of another era, when most of our ancestors arrived at our shores.

In the first place, socio-economic and political circumstances were quite different then, and demographic conditions, though not without notable incidents of conflict and confrontation, were far more conducive to settling in ethnic communities.

The so-called "melting pot" theory has been largely discredited. Any eventual enculturation was a long and difficult process that approached more the harmonic detente of a mosaic than the compromised blend of a stewpot.

The second temptation would be to dismiss summarily as naïve and romantic any attempt to develop the tools and strategies to enable us to encounter and accommodate migrants, especially displaced families, who are determinably disposed to live and work in a new country, respectful of its laws and customs.

All human encounters entail a give and take, as well the acceptance of boundaries that require mutual respect, patience, a certain commonality of language and following "house rules."

A wall or an electric fence is certainly a boundary, but really more of a barricade to any encounter. A gate or a door is also a boundary, but one that offers hope for an encounter, sooner or later, so long as mutually agreeable terms for passage can be reached.

The reason we are observing National Migration Week Jan. 8-14 is because we recognize, first of all, the need for both prayer and hard work. We pray for inspiration to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which, as Christians, is always mediated through one another, as we remain disposed in good faith, trusting that the Spirit will work through us.

We also pray for those who are in positions of leadership: that they will have the courage, wisdom and perseverance to avoid those two temptations that would lead us nowhere.

Finally, we pray for all migrants who are suffering pain, anxiety and hardships due to the uncertainty of their future and the instability of their current status. May our trust in God and God's work in us together lead all of us to hope and peace.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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