St. Francis Xavier Cabrini took to heart Jesus' greatest commandment to love God and love…
As a country of immigrants, we are called to see their humanity
To give credit where it is due, this story was told by Father Bob Astorino, a Maryknoll Missioner from New York, now with God — a good friend who served in the Far East for many years.
One day, he was on the subway in Hong Kong. It was raining cats and dogs. The train stopped at a station, exposed to the elements. Father Astorino was continuing to another station, but he watched people leave the train and others come aboard. Those leaving the train were walking away, their rain ware held tightly around them, often with their heads covered. He saw only the backs of faceless people.
People coming toward the train also were clutching their raincoats to them, but he saw their faces, men and women, young and old, prosperous or not, their faces all wet in the driving rain, often squinting to keep the water out of their eyes, individual human beings dealing with the nuisance of the rain, all intent on boarding the train to reach their preferred destinations.
Each face had its story and its humanity.
Pope Francis just returned from visits to Cyprus and Greece. Modern Greek territory includes much more than the peninsula at the tip of the Balkans. Integrally, a part of the country is made up of many islands. To escape economic hardships or political troubles in the Middle East, people often find boats to take them to one of these islands, hoping to continue on to Europe since Greece is a member of the European Union.
Travel onward into Europe usually is easy, but the large number of refugees are finding the process difficult. Why? Many residents of Greece, and of other European states, simply do not want newcomers, and very real and pragmatic questions arise regarding food, shelter, sanitation, health care and the future. What overall attitude should be considered?
Pope Francis visited Cyprus, a large island in the Mediterranean Sea, an independent nation, once blessed by the footprints of apostles, but long torn by religious division. Muslims and Christians inhabit Cyprus. Never the twain shall meet.
The Holy Father, in effect, spoke a common appeal in both places, addressed alike to Europeans who wanted no immigrants to come among them, and to the quarreling Cypriots.
Following Jesus, and proposing an overall attitude, he saw the immigrants on Cyprus — and the adversaries — not as faceless figures, as Father Astorino saw the backs of those people leaving the train in Hong Kong, but he saw them as individual living human beings, beloved of God, coping with difficulties, hopeful only of being in a better place.
For the immigrants, their desired destination would be a place free from want and despair. For the Cypriots, the destination would be a place free from conflict.
Immigrants are nothing new in America, to say the least. Descendants of the first arrivals at Jamestown or St. Augustine, or the pilgrims on the Mayflower, celebrate their forebears, but in that very fact they are venerating lowly immigrants who were unwanted, or mistreated, or who could not make a go of it back home.
American Catholics can, and should, take enormous pride in this fact. Many Americans already here historically had a less than welcoming attitude toward immigrants, but the Catholic Church made a name for itself in America, often written in golden letters, because of its respect for, and attention to, immigrants, schools for immigrant children so that they could live productive adult lives, hospitals to care for sick immigrants, churches honoring immigrant sensitivities, always, always, pursing the basic purpose of recognizing and instilling in immigrants a sense of self-esteem, dignity and purpose in life.
In other words, to recall Father Astorino, American Catholics saw the faces of immigrants.
Remember Jesus. Remember what Pope Francis wisely said in Greece and Cyprus. Remember Father Astorino’s story. Look at the faces — of human beings, of children of God.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.