Who is my neighbor? A modern day parable about immigration.
|Deacon John Coe, 2nd from right, and wife Veronica in San Salvador|
Jesus replied to the scholar that his understanding of the law was correct: Love God above all; and love your neighbor as yourself. And so the scholar, in order to justify himself, asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
I’m sure you’ve heard this story so many times that you could recite it to me from memory. So many times, that it may have lost the edge that it had when Jesus first told this parable to that scholar of the law, almost two thousand years ago.
Jesus, who is my neighbor?
There was a boy who lived in the projects in San Salvador. He was being recruited by the gangs. I have seen those neighborhoods myself; and I met a couple of the gang members, during my recent mission immersion trip to El Salvador, with Maryknoll. The gang leaders told the boy that they would rape his sister if he did not join. But he knew that once he got mixed up with the gangs, he would never get his life back.
So their mother turned them over to a smuggler, along with all of her life’s savings. They made their way through El Salvador and into Guatemala in vans and buses. They continued north, slipping illegally across the border into Mexico. In Mexico, they first traveled on foot until they came to a railroad line. Then they hopped on a freight train, a train called La Bestia (“The Beast”) -- or El Tren de la Muerte” (“The Death Train”). They rode atop the moving cars. If they had fallen off the train, they would probably have been killed. There were bribes to be paid along the way. And there were other dangers to be avoided, including assault, rape, and robbery. They reached the city of Reynosa, Mexico, and from there they continued north, crossing the Rio Bravo at night -- the river that we call the Rio Grande – and then they were pointed toward Hidalgo, Texas, before being abandoned by the smuggler. When the Border Patrol found them twelve hours later, they were exhausted and severely dehydrated. Their bodies were beaten and bruised. They had lost a lot of weight. They were hungry.
They were just two children; but they were part of a surge of thousands of children who were fleeing the violence of their homelands in Central America. Ironically, they had fled to the nation that had supported corrupt governments in their countries for so many years -- policies and governments that created the conditions that they were now forced to escape.
A Congressman happened to hear the story on the news. Actually, you really couldn’t avoid hearing it. He demanded that the law be changed so that child refugees could be immediately sent back to their own countries. He was a strong supporter of the law, and insisted that it was the only alternative if the nation’s laws were to be respected. He always added, though, that he supports legal immigration.
Likewise, a radio talk show host with many listeners took an interest in the story. He railed against Catholic Charities, because they were raising money in his city to help the children. He often tells his listeners that he is a devout Christian, and he talks about his particular Church. But he argued that feeding and clothing the unaccompanied children who had come here seeking refuge was only going to encourage more children to make the same perilous journey to the north. The most Christian response, he insisted, was to not help these children in any way.
But a Muslim woman came upon a story about the children, and was moved with compassion. She
learned that there was an immigrant youth center in her city; and she went there to see how she could help. She took out her checkbook, and made a donation. She wrote a letter to her Congressman, pleading for just treatment for the children. And then she volunteered to assist at the shelter during the day. She spends two hours there, four days a week, just helping out in any way she can. Sometimes she cleans the toilets, and puts clean sheets on the beds. On Thursdays, she works in the cafeteria, providing meals for the children. And always, she finds time to talk to the children, to comfort them, and to just be with them.
Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the children?