Head-on collision with diversity
“We’re all immigrants.”
The matter-of-fact statement summed up an eight-week program co-facilitated by Sister Mary Montgomery, who at the time served as director of the Terre Haute Deanery Pastoral Center, and Greg Carter, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s in Terre Haute and the Vermillion County chief deputy prosecutor.
Carter uttered those words prior to the beginning of the seventh segment in the course, “Crossing Borders: Migration, Theology and the Human Journey.”
“We’re raising all of our consciousness with this topic,” Sister Mary added.
Sister Mary said the 11 people taking the course, which included Sisters Barbara Battista and Joan Matthews, postulant Tracey Horan and Providence Associate Joanna Dailey, had the chance to “discover more about themselves, our values and our God.”
“It really is a human journey,” Sister Mary said. “Migration is simply part of the human condition.”
Topics discussed during the eight weeks included “The Contemporary debate and public policy;” “History of migration;” “The Bible and migration;” “Foundations of migration – root causes;” “Migration and Catholic social teaching;” “Slavery in America;” “The human face of the migrant;” and “Eucharist and a theology of migration.”
Sister Mary said the program is a “Just Matters” module from JustFaith Ministries, based in Louisville.
“The course raises awareness on the nature of immigration and your background globally,” Carter added. “We want to open ourselves, be informed and transformed on the topic, which is central to our Christian identity.”
During the eight weeks, the course, which was offered at the Terre Haute Deanery Pastoral Center, had quite an impact on those participating.
“Our pilgrim church is very much rooted in stories of migration, fleeing persecution and being a ‘stranger’ in a new land,” Tracey said. “It is part of who we are, and modern stories of migration echo the challenge to faith that we find in Scripture. Our church has a history of speaking and acting on behalf of migrants, especially the right to migrate for the purpose of finding meaningful work and a means to live.”
“I learned that our economy is built on, requires actually, the work of thousands of migrants,” Sister Barbara added. “We need their labor in the fields, in the kitchens and in the hotel rooms across our country. And yet, our government makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for them to get a visa.
Throughout the course, participants were asked to read three books, including “A Promised Land, a Perilous Journey: Theological Perspectives on Migration,” edited by Daniel G. Groody and Gioacchino Campese.
Tracey said the book left quite an impression on her.
“We learned here the powerful metaphor of migrants as the ‘crucified peoples,’” she said. “As Jesus sacrificed for others, migrants often sacrifice their very lives crossing the desert for the sake of their families. As Jesus suffered for the sins of others, migrants are often forced to shoulder suffering at the hands of unjust structures that proliferate inequality among peoples and nations.”
They also were tasked to read several newspaper and magazine articles regarding the plight of the immigrant.
“One of the articles we read put it this way: Currently, globalization has brought about the free flow of goods across borders, but not the free flow of people,” Sister Barbara said. “On the contrary it is now more dangerous for migrants to cross our southern border than ever before. I can hardly recite the poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty. It no longer applies, at least, certainly not to our neighbors to the south.”
Participants also watched several films on migration.
“The last film was full of tragedy as those who made it across the border of the United States carried their 2-gallon water jugs,” Sister Joan said. “It was heartbreaking as they passed the many graves of those who died along the way and the religious symbols, so important to their faith.”
During the eight weeks, all had to trace their own family migration story – essentially a family tree – which helped the participants have a better understanding of immigrants.
“My grandparents were from Ireland and Italy,” Sister Barbara said. “They came through Ellis Island at a time when our country at least let people in.”
Tracey explained that after the eight weeks of study, she has come to believe migration may never end.
“Our public discourse uses fear and sensationalism to distract from our responsibility for the plight of immigrants today,” she said. “Demand for cheap labor, goods and drugs have done irreparable damage to the prosperity and landscape of Central and South American countries, as well as Mexico. The desire to win elections has driven numerous politicians to propagate a glaringly inaccurate picture of who immigrants are and why they make the choice to come here.
“As long as we have shameful inequality in our world, there will be migration.”
(Originally published in the Winter 2015 issue of HOPE magazine.)