For anyone paying attention to the 2016 election cycle, you already know that questions surrounding immigrants and refugees have received incredible coverage.
Indeed, Donald Trump’s positions on immigration were likely responsible for his gaining the attention and support necessary to become the Republican nominee for president, and his later positions on Muslim immigrants and refugees were also given wall-to-wall coverage.
Pope Francis has also labored to draw attention to these sets of issues, though obviously in a very different way.
At a recent Jesuit-run September conference in Rome titled “Global Migration and Refugee Crisis: Time to Contemplate and Act,” for instance, Francis highlighted the fact that there are “more than 65 million” forcibly displaced persons around the globe. He rightly called this number “unprecedented” and “beyond all imagination.”
He urged his audience to “welcome refugees into your homes and communities,” making sure that their experience is not one “of sleeping cold on the streets, but one of warm human welcome.”
Francis’s emphasis on these topics is anything but new. The Church’s celebration of a special “World Day of Migrants and Refugees,” going on now for over 100 years, is just the most recent focus it has had on welcoming the stranger.
Pope St. John Paul II, writing in his quintessential pro-life encyclical Evangelium Vitae, insists that the commandment ‘You shall not kill’ is “more fully expressed in the positive command of love for one’s neighbor.” This requires “showing concern for the stranger, even to the point of loving one’s enemy.”
For John Paul, the parable of the Good Samaritan teaches us the command of God that “a stranger is no longer a stranger” and we must instead welcome them as neighbors in the spirit of hospitality.
In an interview I did with him here at Crux, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownville, Texas (a border community deeply familiar with welcoming the stranger) insisted that the kind of violence present in refusing to welcome the stranger is similar to the violence present in abortion. On this topic it is worth quoting Flores in full:
This year, there is a proposal [from Republican nominee Donald Trump] on the table to proceed with mass deportations of undocumented men, women and children. One cannot in conscience countenance a program of mass deportation. It is a brutal proposal. In some instances, particularly dealing with the Central American mothers and children, and deportations into some parts of Mexico, we are dealing with placing them in proximate danger of death.
I consider supporting the sending of an adult or child back to a place where he or she is marked for death, where there is lawlessness and societal collapse, to be formal cooperation with an intrinsic evil. Not unlike driving someone to an abortion clinic.
This is a classic example of the violence of a throw-away culture—which, again, is central to how I have argued Pope Francis has contributed to the Consistent Ethic of Life tradition.
In such a culture we see how the dignity of the weak, especially when inconvenient for those who have power over them, is degraded so that they can be marginalized and discarded as so much trash. We see precisely this in Donald Trump’s now infamous claims that Mexico is “not sending their best” and that such immigrants are “bringing drugs and bringing crime.”
We also saw it at work in his description of “Muslims entering the United States” as having “no sense of reason or respect for human life.” In both cases, the degradation of the dignity of Latino and Muslim immigrants and refugees led to calls for them to be marginalized and discarded as so much trash. Even if death awaits them in their home country.
Pope Francis rightly insists that, especially if we are bound by the command of Christ to welcome the stranger, our fear must be overcome by hospitality, encounter, and especially mercy.
And we have no illusions about what these commitments may involve. The Washington Post has reported on how ISIS terrorists, posing as Syrian refugees using false passports and identities, blew themselves up outside the Stade de France sports complex.
But even a quick skim of the Gospels demonstrates that discipleship requires risk. Indeed, they tell us something deeply troubling, but no less binding: if we abandon the commands of Christ in an attempt to try to preserve our life, we will lose that very life.
Charles C. Camosy is Associate Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University. He is co-editor of the just-released book Polarization in the U.S. Catholic Church: Naming the Wounds, Beginning to Heal.