One of the many blessings I have received during my years here at St. Isidore is the privilege of living and ministering with two recent immigrants to our country: Fr. Sama Muma and Fr. Noel Cornelio. Fr. Muma is a native of Cameroon, and Fr. Noel a native of the Philippines. Through Fr. Muma I came to know and befriend African immigrants to our country, especially those from Cameroon and Nigeria. Through Fr. Noel I came to know and befriend immigrants from Asia, especially from the Philippines, as well as many Latino immigrants who were his close friends from his years of ministry among the Hispanic community in Detroit. I was able to spend many good times with their families and friends. What a blessing!
My life has been enriched by my exposure to the beauties of their various cultures, the good lives they lead, their dynamic spiritual lives, and their joy-filled, colorful, liturgical celebrations. Our immigrants are just like the rest of us: good, down to earth, hardworking people doing their best to provide for their families. They are joyful people, and extremely hospitable.
I am afraid that it is part of our human nature is to “fear” and hold prejudices regarding people who are different from us. Xenophobia is a fear that has been around for a long time. It was present in my family as I was growing up. However, once we come to befriend and know those from different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and races, and hear their stories, those fears and prejudices give way to care and respect. Beginning a few months ago, a group of beautiful Latinos gathers at the rectory every Thursday evening to pray the rosary, reflect on the upcoming Sunday’s scripture, and share some hospitality. This is a rich gift for me, and my favorite night of the week.
Recent events in our country have brought the evil of bigotry and xenophobia and the violence they breed to the forefront. Oppression of the alien has no place in our Christian faith. The most commonly repeated commandment in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, is “do not oppress the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves.” In the Gospel of Matthew, at the Last Judgment, Jesus said to the goats who are banished to eternal punishment: “I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me.”
We have all been praying these past couple weeks for the victims of the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. However, we need to go beyond prayer. We need to be intentional in challenging the fear of immigrants and their dehumanization which we have been exposed to on a daily basis in recent years. We must teach our children to be loving to all God’s children. We can begin by examining ourselves and making attempts to overcome our own bigotry. The best way to do this is to befriend immigrants and hear their stories. Over the past few years, we have offered a few venues for this experience at St. Isidore. Sadly, these events have been poorly attended.
As pastor, I have a responsibility to call out the bigotry and prejudice I see in our parish and summon us to repentance and conversion. I am trying to become more aware of the prejudice and bigotry I know that I continue to hold in my heart and am sincerely struggling to name and overcome it. I invite all of us to do the same.