Last week, in my continuing series on the Corporal Works of Mercy, I discussed sheltering the homeless. There is another, older way of talking about this particular work of mercy that I think brings out some other aspects. It is to “Harbor the harborless.” Rather than putting the emphasis on physical shelter, it relates back to what Jesus talks about in His parable of judgment in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 25. There Jesus states, “For I was…a stranger and you welcomed me.” Welcoming the stranger is certainly a corporal work of mercy.
Today many people are forced to leave their homeland and go to an alien culture and country either because of persecution, or to flee violence and war, or because of terrorism, or in a desperate search for an opportunity to provide for their family and themselves. There are more refugees in the world now than at any time since World War II. On every continent there are immigrants. People are moving from country to country, often needy and desperate and anxious to find a welcome and a shred of security and sanity.
How we treat refugees and immigrants, how we welcome them and assist them to become productive members of society, is also how we treat Jesus. The Catholic Church in our country has an entire website on this issue and how to get involved. It is www.justiceforimmigrants.org. We are largely a country of immigrants, and a church of immigrants. It especially behooves us to practice this particular corporal work of mercy.
At the border of our state, just a few weeks ago, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, Texas. Dramatically he called for treating immigrants not as numbers or as a problem, but as people, people deserving respect and compassion. You can read a translation of his address at the Vatican website: www.vatican.va. Click on the English tab, then Pope Francis’ homilies, then find the one from Ciudad Juarez. There is also a video of the homily.
There are many ways to get involved in “harboring the harborless.” From time to time there are trips to the detention centers here in Texas where families and unaccompanied children are held. Members of our parish have joined these trips to learn and to offer support and encouragement.
Closer to home there is Casa Marianella. A number of our parishioners are on their board of directors. Casa Marianella is a volunteer-driven emergency homeless shelter in east Austin, serving recently-arrived immigrants and asylum seekers from around the world. Casa Marianella shelters an average of 500 individuals annually as well as providing assistance and services to the community. They do great work “harboring the harborless.” They also have a fantastic fund raising event each year that is a LOT of fun, with good food. There are many ways to get involved, from donating furniture to helping with English classes to transportation…many different opportunities. You can find out more at http://www.casamarianella.org. You can even sign up for their on-line newsletter.
Jesus doesn’t give us an excuse to NOT welcome and assist refugees and immigrants because of fear. There are legitimate concerns about terrorism in this crazy world, but that does not let us off the hook of Jesus who tells us, “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to ME.”