A Broken Dream

Next week, the 45thPresident of the United States will visit London with the memory of the recent scandal on the southern border with Mexico still fresh in our minds.

The words that are written below the Statue of Liberty, the iconic welcome to the Hudson River and New York City are well known across the planet.

‘Give me your tired, your poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe  free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.’

That they were so contemptuously disregarded by the current Administration was an action that betrayed the American Dream in a most direct and fundamental manner. The current argument in the US is not between Democrats and Republicans; it is between decency and autocracy.

Mgr Michael Ryan, pastor of St James Cathedral, Seattle, out on the Pacific Coast, far from Ellis Island made this comment during an occasion of prayer and procession.

 “And so we pray and process tonight because if we were to content ourselves with standing on the sidelines, flying the flag of political impartiality, we would be selling our souls.  And we refuse to sell our souls. 

We pray and process tonight because the people at our borders fleeing violence and oppression and seeking asylum and a better life for themselves and their children are our flesh and blood, our brothers and sisters.

We refuse to stand by while they are being mistreated and dehumanized – families torn apart, and children languishing in a heartless limbo of separation from their parents.”

His words were a fine statement of protest and faith, reflecting the outrage that has been expressed across the country resulting in the Executive Order to prevent further division of families. For many children and their parents, it was too little, too late.

I wrote these few words when the story first broke.

One way to control unwanted wanderers
is to weaponise their children,
separate their small-fingered hands,
cloud their eyes with tears
parch their mouths with fears.

Ellis Island is no more than a memory
hovering at the Hudson estuary,
its sunken shore, a shipping hazard,
marked by an orange flotation buoy
and a placard ‘Bring me nothing.’

Enough said. Maybe it will be raised over tea in Downing Street.

With the United States withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Committee, it is no small wonder that concern is spreading. Across Europe there is indication of a resurgence of the far Right in the political spectrum, with a growing disregard for those in need of refuge.

Speaking recently at a conference on international migration, sponsored by the Holy See and Mexico, Pope Francis stated in the strongest possible terms that migrants are persons, each with his or her own history, culture, feelings, and aspiration.

“They are our brothers and sisters,” he said, “and they need ongoing protection regardless of whatever migrant status they may have.  Their fundamental rights and dignity must be protected and defended, and particular concern must be shown for migrant children and their families.”

If ever there was a seed for a Sunday homily that reflects the urgency of Christian witness in our present times, there it is. But it is not only in the US and Europe that Human Rights are in jeopardy, but in many other countries around the world. The principle of what we have, we keep is expressed in so many ways, sometimes with ruthless violence, at other times with softly spoken words that cloak a steely determination to keep the doors closed.

It is now two years since the fateful Referendum decision that the UK should leave the European Union, a vote that brought to the surface a latent racism within our own shores. It is a time when the Christian voice of compassion and care must be strong in defence of those who have little, whose strength is insufficient to meet the challenge that they face.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer argued that “as much as the Christian would like to remain distant from political struggle, nonetheless, even here the commandment of love urges the Christian to stand up for his neighbour.

We live in troubled times, much is asked of us. The outcry by Christians over the contentious border policy  in the US, was led by the American Catholic bishops, who were gathered at their spring meeting in Florida. NCR reported that on June 13, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opened the meeting by expressing his concern in no uncertain terms, saying “asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life.”

There is much to be done.

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  1. Con Devree says:

    Articles on migration face the inevitable inability to be comprehensive. They require a lot of research, in the absence of which they often become mere criticisms of some unfashionable individual.

    For instance this article grants a status to Mexico arising from its joint sponsorship with the Holy See of a conference on international migration. However a reported 175,000 Central Americans were deported from Mexico in 2015. A February 2016 Congressional Research Service report mentioned US plans to provide “at least $75 million” in assistance to Mexico in the form of nonintrusive inspection equipment, mobile kiosks, canine teams, immigration agents to help Mexico secure their southern border and better deal with shared U.S.-Mexico concerns over drug trafficking and immigration. The same report mentions human rights groups criticizing Mexican officials for abuses against migrants, for failing to provide access to humanitarian visas or asylum to migrants who have valid claims to international protection, and for detaining migrant children.

    This article ignores the claim made during his election campaign by Andrés López Obrador, president elect of Mexico. He declared mass-migration to the United States “a human right” – “We will defend… the migrants of the world who, by necessity, have to leave their villages to seek life in the United States; it is a human right that we will defend.”

    Catholicism teaches that all human beings have a right to share in the wealth of the world to enjoy adequate food clothing and shelter and dignity in living. It is incumbent on bishops and priests to criticise abuses but they do not ultimately have the competence to provide the necessary political solutions.

    At times they blunder even in matters they have competence in. In their “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” the US bishops remind us we are “citizens of the heavenly Kingdom, whose reign is not yet fully realized on earth.” Implicit in that “not yet” is the expectation that, in time, there will be a heaven on earth. Did He who said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” (no “yet” about it) fail to anticipate this?

    More wisely the document outlines 10 goals for political life, including achieving “comprehensive immigration reform that offers a path to citizenship, treats immigrant workers fairly, prevents the separation of families, maintains the integrity of our borders, respects the rule of law, and addresses the factors that compel people to leave their own countries.”

    This is Catholic. But it is a difficult cultural and political combination, unlikely done with dogmatic assertions. It has to be realised politically.

    More realistically the bishops state that “The Church equips its members to address political and social questions by helping them to develop a well-formed conscience. Catholics have a serious and lifelong obligation to form their consciences in accord with human reason and the teaching of the Church.” This is how the local priest really makes his political contribution.

    The Pope, bishops and priests should remind states of their duties, but their primary role is in reminding us at home, not individuals with whom they have no contact, of our responsibilities. For example, Archbishop Chaput provided a dramatic reminder within the last 3 years that one of the clearest teachings of Christ is that if we don’t share our goods with the poor, we will go to Hell. (Matt 25, 31-40) Simple.

    Current global trends suggest that transmigration will continue to land the challenge at our doorsteps. Also, God has often used unlikely individuals –Jacob, David, Paul … Even Donald?

  2. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Distractions from the true current crisis is what I’d call this. October 29 will come and the 21 youth plaintiffs will have their day against “government” (code word for adults everywhere) and they shall bring this sword to the hearts and minds of the people who aspire to remove their future from the forecast. Can you imagine labelling yourselves “a generation not meant to last” because of a life cycle on this planet that can’t be supported.

    What is the urgency to protect migrants at a time when we are all at risk. We obsessively run from one topic to the next like moths to the light. Is this the illumination that we are afforded? We’ve become ethical in all regards, have we? Show the proof of this thought.

    A website that agrees that we can’t look towards politics to find answers to these challenges has not yet realised that perhaps the disassembling of these power structures is what is urgently needed. A broken dream has turned into a nightmare on earth.

    For this my brothers and sisters is the true fallout – let us be sure it’s met its match.

  3. Chris McDonnell says:

    ‘What is the urgency to protect migrants at a time when we are all at risk?’ asks Lloyd at #2
    If he were a migrant, he would surely know the answer to his question.

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