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.