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Church: Safe harbor for immigrants
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Today is the Christian feast of Pentecost, marking fifty days since Easter.

For Christians, Pentecost celebrates the outpouring of the Spirit on people from every nation.  The Book of Acts mentions five ethnic groups and ten regions of the Roman Empire represented by the Jews who received the Holy Spirit at the inspired preaching of Peter.  Later, the apostle would marvel, “I begin to see how true it is that God shows no partiality.  Rather, the man of any nation who fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”  (Acts of the Apostles 2: 7-11, 10: 34-35).  Thus the words of the prophet Joel would be fulfilled: “It shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out a portion of my spirit on all mankind.” (Joel 3:1).

Peter made this comment upon seeing non-Jews, to whom he had been sent by the Spirit, receiving the same blessings as they placed their faith in Jesus Christ.  He launched the fulfillment of the “Great Commission” for every missionary to come: “Go…make disciples of all the nations...and know that I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19, 20).

Paul would take this apostolate to the Gentiles farther.  In fact, his stubborn determination to preach to those who had not embraced the Mosaic Law drove him clear to the heart of the Empire, to the courts of Caesar himself.

It helped, of course, that Paul was a Roman citizen, and therefore eligible for legal due process when it came to his trial.  The process of his step-by-step judgment and final condemnation to martyrdom allowed him ample time and opportunity to make the Gospel known to everyone.  His letters, widely copied and quoted, would seal that process as they formed a substantial part of the New Testament scriptures.  To the Colossians, he’d declare, “There is no Greek or Jew…circumcised or uncircumcised, for-eigner…slave or freeman.  Rather, Christ is everything in all of you.” (3:11).

From its very beginnings, the Church founded by Jesus Christ embraced people of every race and culture, of every economic class and situation in life.  Though cultures and languages would present real challenges to maintaining unity in the community of believers, the Spirit would lead them again and again into processes of reconciliation and reunification.  Jesus himself had begged the Father, “I do not pray for [my disciples] alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their word, that all may be one as you, Father are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me…I living in them, you living in me - that their unity may be complete.” (John’s Gospel, 17: 20-23)

Despite its alliances with governments during certain epochs of history, not to mention its embrace and absorption into what became the “Holy Roman Empire”, the Catholic Church always managed to extricate itself from entanglements with any one nation, government, or temporal power, in order to maintain its integrity as the community of those who honor Him who said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36).
How true this was, since Jesus “came unto his own, and his own did not receive him,” (John 1:11), began his life on earth as a fugitive, an exile, and a refugee (Matthew 2:13, etc), and was condemned to die outside the walls of the city to whom he had been sent on a mission of mercy - Jerusalem.

He would ultimately base his judgment on humanity precisely on the degree of our humanity: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.  I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me.  I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to visit me…I assure you, as often as you did it for one of the least of these my brethren, you did it for me.” (Matthew 25:35-37,40)  Heaven is reserved for those who showed compassion, but for the merciless, condemnation awaits.

In today’s increasingly antagonistic environment toward those people who are within our borders without proper documentation, the Catholic Church joins many other Christian organizations in recognizing the importance of borders and the promotion of full, responsible citizenship.  At the same time, in the absence of a healthy immigration system and laws that promote the right of all human beings to humane and dignified treatment, in a situation where ordinary folks seeking a way for their families to survive are being categorized as criminals, the followers of Jesus Christ have to raise their voices.  To remain silent in the face of obvious injustices would be to accept them, to be complicit, to deny our own origins as immigrants and the truth about the Messiah who died as a common criminal outside the city gates.

No, we love our country, but we love her most because she has treated with dignity those who seek within her borders refuge and a future full of hope.