Looking Backward to Move Forward: Welcoming the Stranger

Fr. Leo Tibesar, MM, with Ms. Edith Otaka
At a time when we are increasingly surrounded by a culture of fear and division, especially towards immigrants and refugees, we are called to stand up for human dignity.

Maryknoll's commitment to standing with the stranger in our midst touches the United States in a distinct way. In the first half of the 20th Century, Maryknoll administered a parish serving Japanese and Filipino Americans in my hometown of Seattle. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, our parishioners of Japanese descent were viewed as a threat by the US Government - evicted by executive order from their homes and forced to live in internment camps. Our Maryknoll priest, sisters, and brothers followed them to the Minidoka camp in Idaho, continuing to accompany and serve them. Once released and having lost their homes, many relocated to Chicago. Their pastor, Maryknoll Fr. Leopold Tibesar (native of Quincy, IL), relocated with them.

From the moment that I joined Maryknoll's mission education team in Seattle, the story of Maryknoll's prophetic solidarity with the Japanese-American community gave me pride in being part of the Maryknoll family. As it happens, I made my own journey to Chicago a couple of years ago, and with my team am blessed to participate in Maryknoll's tradition of ministering to and in solidarity with members of immigrant communities. We work with Latino/a young adults, many of whom are DREAMers, to form them as leaders, peacemakers, and missionary disciples who participate with God to transform our world through love.

Mexico/US Border
February 19th marks the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which ordered the internment of the Japanese. In 1988, the US Government formally apologized for the treatment of Japanese-Americans during this time. As Christians, though, we are called to read and respond to the signs of the times as Jesus would here and now. As so many respond in fear to people seeking inclusion and acknowledgment of their human dignity, do we have the courage to follow the example of the great Christian witnesses of the past - of Jesus himself? Will we, as our Maryknoll Sisters say, participate in making God's love visible?

Kevin Foy is Team Leader for Church Engagement in the Central United States.