Generation Z and spiritual companions

Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels

By Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD

What is All Saints’ Day? How many Catholics remember that Nov. 1 is a holy day of obligation? Young people who belong to Generation Z (those born after 1993) might not even know that there is a day to recognize and honor the lives and works of saints, both known and unknown.

Some people claim that saints are irrelevant in today’s fast-paced, high-tech and secularized society. The influence of advertising has urged Generation Z to strive to follow their most-admired personalities on social media. They want to know all the nitty-gritty details about the personal lives of celebrities—the more personal the details, the better.

For Catholics of all generations, however, saints of yore and even contemporary saints can be admired personalities from whom we benefit by learning of their virtuous lives. Devotion to saints can grow from understanding the Apostles’ Creed, a component of the Catholic Mass. Let us not simply say, “I believe in the communion of saints” without a deeper knowledge of its meaning.

The term “saints” encompasses the church’s triumphant (all the souls in heaven), the church’s suffering (the souls in purgatory), and the church’s militant (those of us who are still on earth, aiming at sanctity). The unique and special communion depicts and upholds the sense of an all-embracing and belongingness in the community God.

We are all called to partake in the universal call for holiness, especially those who are here on earth. In a 2014 General Audience, Pope Francis said, “It is by living with love and offering Christian witness in our daily tasks that we are called to become saints…. Always and everywhere you can become a saint, that is, by being receptive to the grace that is working in us and leads us to holiness.”

Studies about Generation Z indicate that they seek something that enables them to feel like they are making a difference in the world. Responding to the call of holiness is indeed a way to make a difference. Why not take the path of saints?

Here are some ideas:

Let a saint be part of your life. Each life story of a saint gives us profound and inspiring thoughts on how to serve and follow God. There are many free apps, such as The Saint of the Day, that offer short and easy-to-read information about the life and work of a saint. Find out which aspects of the saint’s life you could relate to such as the things you have in common or how the saint developed his/her relationship with God.

Be unique. Nowadays, being unique is trendy. How about making your prayer life unique? Saint Teresa of Avila offers writings on how to develop and grow in our prayer life. Saint Ignatius of Loyola teaches us the way of discernment. Embrace global diversity by following Saint Francis Xavier who shows us how to deal with challenges in foreign missions. Feel lost and don’t know how to move forward from a dark past? Saint John of the Cross enlightens us on how to deal with dark and painful experiences. Saints are human beings, who like us, had joys, sorrows, weaknesses and problems during their times on earth. We can learn a lot from the saints.

Visit a parish. Every parish has a patron saint whose feast day is celebrated annually. Celebrating the feast of the patron saint of a parish helps not only to strengthen the identity of the parish, but it gives parishioners knowledge about the life and works of the saint, which can help them grow in their own Christian faith. If there is an opportunity, visit the sacred and religious sites that are significant in the lives of the saints, such as their birthplaces, churches where they were baptized, schools where they studied, communities where they worked, shrines, tombs, and other sites consecrated for worship or ritual.

Go on a pilgrimage. These are also awe-inspiring places connected to saints where they were born, baptized, educated, worked or buried. Other sacred places mark where miracles or visions were reported. Seeing these places in person help us deepen our belief that a life in holiness is possible. One example is the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Saint James the Great in Galicia, Spain. In Portugal, you can visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, where Pope Francis recently canonized Jacinta and Francisco, two of the three children who witnessed the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In North America, you can visit Saint Anne de Beaupré Basilica in Quebec, the National Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia, the National Shrine of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini in Chicago or the National Shrine of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos in New Orleans.

Pray through the intercession of saints. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church conveys, the saints in heaven are much closer to God than those of us still on earth. “The merciful love of God and his saints is always attentive to our prayers.” (No. 962) Therefore, we ask our family and friends in heaven to pray for us, to hand deliver our prayers to God.

Borrow from the saints. Sometime, we are overwhelmed by the trials we face in life. We seek words to articulate our thoughts and express our feelings. During those times, we can express our petition to God through the prayers of saints, such as “make me an instrument of your peace,” a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. When we are frightened and terrified by darkness in our society, let us pray with St. Arnold Janssen, the founder of the Society of the Divine Word and two communities of religious women: “May the darkness of sin and night of unbelief vanish before the light of the Word and the spirit of grace, and may the heart of Jesus live in the hearts of all. Amen.”

Sainthood comes to those who selflessly offered their lives to God. Members of Generation Z are characterized as self-starters and more accepting of others. To them, I say, why not include a saint in your life? Accept what a saint can offer you and be transformed. Regardless of generation, with the grace of God, let us all strive to live out our call to be saints here on earth.

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Love blooms in the springtime

Road to Emmaus_illustration_by Ben Le SVD

By Brother Luke Henkel SVD

The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us!

Life is unfolding everywhere around us in May. It’s blossoming, burgeoning and bursting. The mornings are fresh and brilliant—at least the last few here in Chicago, after some pretty wicked storms for a few days. The sun is shining and our seminary is out for the year. Lots of new beginnings are taking place this spring for many Divine Word Missionaries in the Theologate community in Hyde Park.

This, my friends, is a season that makes me think a lot about hope and the story of the disciples going toward Emmaus. For me, the glory and wonder of spring is the Easter mystery.

As I think about the Word, Jesus—living among us and then dying on the cross and leaving behind his disciples, the women and his mother, and everyone else around him—I can’t help but think about the beginning of the Gospel of John and about this season that we’re in now.

John’s Gospel says the Word was made flesh, and DWELT among us—past tense. Historical. But as spring reminds me, Jesus didn’t just dwell among us once and then go. He wasn’t just here and then gone, leaving us to stew in our own misery and confusion. He didn’t just die and depart and that was that.

Jesus came back.

He came back. He resurrected and beat sin. He vanquished the darkness of sin and death and more than that. He came back to the disciples as they were despondently and miserably walking along to Emmaus—after they decided that all hope was gone and that there was nothing left for them to do but return to their old lives.

The disciples were downcast because they’d put all their hope in Jesus and look what happened. They’d given up everything to follow him because they believed he’d be their savior, that he’d truly bring all that he’d promised. (And he promised a lot.) And then, everything fell into the worst disarray and chaos they could have imagined.

To say they were downcast is possibly the biggest understatement in the Bible. Can you even IMAGINE how many emotions they must have been feeling? Downcast, yes, but also rage. Fear. Resentment. Bitterness. Hopelessness. Helplessness and despondency. Surely, regret too. They must have been asking themselves, what had they just abandoned their lives for and where was the pay-off? What did they have to show for all their faith, hope and trust in Jesus?

No wonder they wanted to get back to what they knew, back to fishing, back to some sort of normalcy.

And then guess what. He showed up on their journey. He came back, on this dusty path on the outskirts of Jerusalem, as they were meandering, heads down, away from what had just happened.

Jesus came back.

Jesus came back to visit his friends on their journey from the city. Immediately after this scene, he visited the disciples again and walked through the wall to say, “Peace.”

Given all the mighty, magnificently cosmic effects of the Resurrection, the most powerful thing Jesus could have done was come back to his disciples. The most important thing that Jesus did was to remain with them, walk with them to Emmaus, and stay with them so they could have a meal.

This is the Easter mystery. Sometimes we get caught up in defining the Resurrection itself, and we talk about all that it meant for humanity and for the conquest of life over sin and death.

These conversations ring true, but we’ll never grasp the totally overwhelming mystery of what happened to Jesus in the Resurrection.

But, we can understand what Jesus did on the way to Emmaus. We can understand a long-lost friend showing up alongside us after being gone. We might not grasp where he’d been and what he’d done, but we don’t necessarily need to understand. We can rejoice in the simple fact that he’s here again in front of us. We can then feel our hearts burning within us, as the disciples did once they understood it was Jesus.

We don’t have to understand the cosmic, universal, overwhelmingly transcendent mysteries of Jesus’ Resurrection in order to feel it. In fact, perhaps the feeling comes first. When we experience Jesus coming back for us, there’s a joy that can’t be defined, a burning, a goodness that has no word, no definition and no limit either.

We might not understand the technicalities of rising from the dead but what’s so beautiful about Jesus showing up again to the downcast disciples is that he’s telling us, “That’s alright.” We don’t need to understand. We just need to see and hear Jesus, and we know he came back for us.

Even though we sometimes feel misery, despair, bitterness, fear or resentfulness, Jesus came back for us. He’s right here. We might not recognize him at first, but we will know it’s him if we pay attention to that feeling, that burning within us. We’ll know.

That burning, my friends, is the Easter mystery. It is life, hope and goodness swelling up inside and overtaking the cells, flooding them with life, light, hope, energy, with the desire for every cell, every mitochondria, ribosome and enzyme to scream and shout the words: “LIFE IS SO GOOD!”

This is what happens during spring. It’s what the flowers and the trees are doing—and it’s what we do when we breathe in the fresh air and take a closer look at a blooming flower or at the hundreds of colors on one single tree. It’s what happens when we attend Mass because this is the most life-giving celebration we have as faithful people.

In every way, may this spring be an awakening, a chance to see the glory, goodness and LIFE that God gives us, not just through some hugely cosmic event but from coming back to see us, to share a meal and the Scripture—to spend more time with his beloved because he can’t get enough of us.

Brotherhood: A primer on the mystery and meaning

Brother Symposium_blog_April 2017

By Brother Luke Henkel SVD

On March 25, I had the privilege and joy of attending the inaugural Brothers Symposium at Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. This day-long event brought together brothers from all across the country—almost 300 religious who represented more than 15 congregations.

It was an invigorating day of discussing what the brotherhood means in our various congregations, how we live it out, and how we address challenges, questions and concerns about the blessed ambiguity of our vocation. This phrase has been a buzzword since the Vatican’s December 2015 release of a document on brotherhood called “Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church.”

Brother John Mark Falkenhain OSB, the keynote speaker, was by far the highlight of the day for me. From the beginning, he spoke the words I feel all brothers need to hear. Brother John Mark spent most of his speech dissecting what might be the most common

john-mark-falkenhain_1
Brother John Mark Falkenhain OSB

question a brother hears—a simple, easy question. “Oh, I see you’re in religious life. Are you a priest or just a brother?”  We all laughed because we caught the word he wanted to highlight: “just.” We’ve all heard it before.

Are you just a brother?

Just. The word might seem simple, even innocuous—and I doubt it’s meant harmfully. There’s much to be said about the cultural connotations and power of this word “just.” But that’s a topic for another day. There’s a lot of hidden meaning behind that word “just,” and it’s not necessarily as harmless as it seems.

For most of us, he said, there’s the temptation to respond to this question with some sort of justification, half a dozen different excuses or even anger at being compared to priests. After all, how often do people usually mean, “Why didn’t you become a priest?”  When this is the real underlying question, it is hurtful.

How should brothers respond to this question? We might say, I’m not just a brother. I’m a teacher, a theologian, a nurse/cook/student/you name it. The answer might be given in terms of our professional title, with a response about what we do or what we offer to our community or the people whom we serve. While this answer isn’t necessarily misleading, it’s not really the whole picture. Our job is not the whole picture we are to paint. We are more than our job. What we offer is not just professional service—anyone can do that.

The question then becomes: What do we offer?

To answer this, Brother John Mark showed a jar of Crofters Organic Fruit Spread. It is, as their motto states, “Just Fruit Spread.” There are no preservatives, no chemicals or additives. It’s simply fruit. There isn’t anything else. It’s just…fruit spread.

And so, he said, when we are faced with the assumption of being “just” brothers, the answer is YES! Brothers are simply brothers. Brothers are present, without additives or chemicals or weird preservatives that no one has ever heard of. Brothers, he emphasized, are natural, organic and simple. We are uncomplicated witnesses, and we walk as Jesus walked—simply, with no hidden intentions or confusing ideologies. This simplicity and singleness of purpose is an extraordinary reminder about what it means to really follow Jesus. It means being witnesses in a special way: unmediated, unbroken, wholly and solely for God. We can then journey on with unfettered zeal and heroism—with true passion because there’s nothing in the way. This, in turn, leaves every brother open to joy, totally free to be what he is called to be.

This is our offering, and this is our source of strength to continue on. Of course, whenever and wherever we look in our world, we can see that things are just so complicated. Nearly every issue and conversation is layered, complex and difficult. Naturally, the answer of simplicity is, well, complicated.

In reflecting on Brother John Mark’s words, I’m reminded of how the very first apostles left behind their professional identities in order to become Jesus’ companions and brothers. They threw down their nets on the shore and gave up their professional title of fishermen in order to follow Jesus.

I’m sure it wasn’t easy for them, and a lot of people misunderstood. Especially back in the day, in a rigid and structured society, this act of going off to simply follow Jesus must have been absurd. Imagine giving up the labels and titles that are easy for people to understand in order to embrace something much more challenging.  However, that’s true brotherhood. It’s complicated and it’s difficult only if we let it be.

I am reminded of Saint Teresa of Calcutta and her call for us to live in the joy that Christ gives us. We have Christ in the smile given, in the smile received, in the smile of the poor, in the smile of Christ our brother. That’s simple, and it’s our source of joy. It’s all we have in the end!

This joy is constant. It’s there all the time, and there’s no reason not to bask in it, glow from it, radiate it back outwards to everyone we meet. As brothers, we’re simply following Jesus. And if we do that—if we’re mindful of and faithful to our small yet heroic purpose of simplicity in this chaotic world—then what can get in the way of this joy?

Brothers are to be heroic in our brotherhood. We are to walk on, to proudly, courageously and solely witness to the passion God has for us!

Welcoming the unexpected

By Viet Quoc Hoang SVD

Paraguayans visit one another often, usually without calling or announcing a visit ahead of time. Tereré or maté are traditional drinks offered to unexpected visitors. While fulfilling my cross-culturing training program (CTP) in Paraguay, I learned how to share maté or tereré in a hospitable environment.

Maté is a caffeine-packed beverage that is always consumed hot and is one of the most popular drinks in the region. It is made from yerba mate—green, finely chopped leaves that infuse the tea water with an earthy and slightly bitter flavor like that of green tea. Some drinkers add sugar to cut the taste as they would with coffee. It is often served in a common guampa, a container made of wood, cattle horns or gourds, and sipped thorugh a bombilla, or metal straw. The preparing, drinking and sharing of maté are an integral part of daily life in Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia and Uruguay.

Guampa and bombilla
Guampa and bombilla

Tereré is a traditional cold drink, made from the leaves of the yerba mate plant. The Paraguayan cultural tradition is to carry these drinks in a thermos, usually wrapped in tooled and stitched leather that also holds an attached cup holder and a metal straw with a series of fine holes that serve as a filter.

When either maté or tereré is shared, the host passes it to one person, who drinks and returns the container to the host, who then  makes another portion for the next person.

The guampa (cup) is completely emptied by each participant before refilling it from the thermos and passing to the next person. Whenever, a participant in the circle of sharing is full or does not want to drink anymore, he or she will say, “Gracias.”

It is a signal to skip that particular person as the circle of sharing continues. People of all ages drink maté and tereré at home, with family or while spending a relaxed afternoon with friends. For many, maté and tereré are the beverages of choice for staying alert during the workday, as they sip on it at their desks. These teas have been part of the Paraguayan culture for hundreds of years.

CTP in Paraguay was indeed a special time for me. I had many excellent opportunities to integrate what I learned into missionary life. I have learned, struggled, affirmed and grown in faith. Although there were moments that I thought it was tough and frustrating, the experience affirmed the vocation to which God calls me, to witness the Good News.

My experience in Paraguay carries on a rich tradition. For more than 140 years, Divine Word Missionaries have been learning and adopting cultural rituals of the communities in which we serve.

All of us are called to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Appreciating the ways of others—such as the tea ceremony of the Paraguayan people—is a form of that love.

La Cultura Paraguaya: A reflection on the Paraguayan culture

By Viet Quoc Hoang SVD

The yearly evaluation at Divine Word Theologate is a time for me to reflect on my goals, my relationships with others and God, and my life in the community. This is also a time for me to be grateful for many blessings that I have received from the Lord throughout the year.

I still need to improve. With the help of each member of the community, I might be transformed, enlightened, awakened and reminded to be who I am meant to be as I move on in life as a Divine Word Missionary.

As I reflect on my enriching and challenging Cross-Cultural Training Program (CTP) in Paraguay, I remember how much I learned during those two years, especially about the custom of blessing and sharing.

The first six months in Paraguay were full of teaching and learning moments. For example, I learned about the custom of the 15-year-old girls’ coming out party to celebrate becoming a señorita. I learned about how Paraguayans socialize, especially in how to receive and give a blessing.

Viet Hoang in Asuncion
Viet Quoc Hoang SVD in Asuncion, Paraguay

Spanish greetings, such as ¡Mucho gusto! (pleased to meet you), are often used with strangers or informal situations. Friends might use less formal Spanish, such as ¿Hola, cómo estás? (hi, how are you?), but more often they use Guaraní, the native language of the indigenous people of Paraguay when greeting friends and relatives.

The most common phrase is Mba´eixapa? which means “How are you?” The reply is almost always ¡lporã terei! (just fine or excellent), often accompanied by the thumbs-up gesture.

In the rural areas, it is normal to call out Adiós to a friend passing one’s house. For male religious and priests, people usually called us the Guarani word Pai. It is helpful to note that the word “Pai” is used to refer to both seminarians and priests. Also, when a woman or a man greets a female friend for the first time in a day, they usually kiss each other on each cheek.

Moreover, the custom of asking for a blessing is common among Paraguayans. They often greet respected elders, such as grandparents, parents, priests, religious, teachers and older adults, by presenting their hands in a prayer position, waiting to be blessed.

My first humbling experience of blessing occurred after a typical Sunday Mass. As I greeted people on their way out from Mass, one elderly woman walked toward me with her hands in the prayer position and asked “Una bendicion, Pai,” which means “a blessing, Father.” I was lost for words for a few seconds but then replied “Doña Carmen, que Dios te bendiga en nombre del Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo,” which means “Mrs. Carmen, may God bless you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

After the brief blessing, Doña Carmen walked away happily. I asked myself, “Who am I, at the age of 32, to bless an elder of 76?” Later that evening, I offered that particular experience in prayers and realized that it was God who gave the blessing and not me. I was only an instrument in that moment of blessing to show God’s love and mercy.

Social challenge: The gifts and tasks of learning a language

Learning Language_blog image

By Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD

What is language? Is there an ultimate language that could transform our world into a better place? I have listened to many speeches on social media from passionate individuals who invite, inspire, and challenge people around the world to make a difference.

Despite the great words, there are still people who are suffering from hunger, war, poverty, violence, discrimination, injustice and other social ills. This thought came to mind during a moment of exhaustion and exasperation during my Spanish-language studies.

When I came to Spain for my two-year cross-cultural training program, I was filled with inspiration, hope and excitement for living in a foreign land as a religious missionary.

Similar to my move to the United States years ago, I have carried with me an open mind and a willing heart. I looked forward to learning a new language and culture. However, I started feeling exasperated after a few months of language studies. I have difficulty learning the verbs and their conjugated forms and tenses. I also struggle with the proper use of masculine or feminine articles and determining whether a noun is singular or plural.

Despite the support of my community, the language barrier made me feel isolated. I even began to lose enthusiasm for attending daily Mass. I felt as though I was only physically present. I did not like reading the missalette and being unable to understand the text. I was stressed and disconnected from the spirit of the Eucharistic celebration. This experience led me to question my vocation as a religious missionary.

Several times, I asked myself, “Why am I learning another language?” I thought it would be fun and exciting, but I have come to realize the enormous difficulties and challenges entailed in learning a new language. I questioned God, “Why is learning Spanish so difficult?” When I become frustrated with all the mistakes I make while practicing Spanish, I go to our chapel and vent all my complaints and frustration in prayer.

It is worth waiting for God’s response. As time passes, I see God’s marvelous way of enlightening my mind, purifying my heart and directing my will toward my language study. I learned profound lessons.

Language gives us the power to free those who are oppressed in our society. I have met several migrants who have had difficulty conversing in Spanish because they did not have the means to learn the language in a formal school. Most of them are self-taught through their daily interactions in their jobs, and some of their employers take advantage of their limitations.

Language is dynamic and transformative. One of my difficulties with Spanish is knowing the right context to use certain verbs. An English verb can have multiple translations in Spanish, and each translation has a different meaning. Thus, it is important to know the right word, understand its right context, and use it appropriately.

I am aware that no words can sufficiently describe the suffering that refugees endure, but I want my mind and heart to be transformed by the words they utter.

I was intrigued to learn that in Spanish, verbs not only describe action, they also express feelings embedded in each word. My eagerness to learn Spanish verbs has led me to a greater desire to deeply understand the words I hear from suffering refugees.

Living in Europe has made me more aware of the refugee crisis. Many refugees were forced to flee their home countries because of persecution, war or violence. Now as they try to start a new life in Europe, they struggle with racial discrimination, religious persecution, political intimidation, harassment and death threats.

My discomfort with communicating in Spain is nothing compared to the hardships that refugees face, especially with their struggles to learn the language. I am aware that no words can sufficiently describe the suffering that refugees endure, but I want my mind and heart to be transformed by the words they utter.

Language is a channel for ethical, doctrinal and spiritual understanding that builds a better society. Learning the Spanish language has made me become more aware of the gap between the language of the elders and the language of the youth. Perhaps, the gap has become so wide that we have neglected each other.

It is hard not to feel sad and dismayed whenever I attend the Holy Mass every Sunday in Spain. The physical grandiosity of the church, with its intricate and marvelous designs, cannot hide the truth that it is an almost empty space.

The church is only full of people on two occasions: when there are groups of tourists and during funeral services. Most of the people who attend Sunday Mass are elderly. Just as I lost my enthusiasm for the Mass because I could not understand the language, maybe many youths nowadays do not understand the significance of words about religion and faith.

It is my hope that through the language we speak, we will be able to carry with us the teaching, moral norms and values embedded in the words. There is an invitation for all of us to revive the language of values that can greatly contribute to the transformation of our community.

What is the ultimate language that could transform our world into a better place? I honestly do not have an answer.

One might suggest that humility, kindness and charity are the language that will transform us. With perseverance, faith and hope, I am one among many people who are searching for that unifying language.

The word that urges me to continue my journey is “us.” Where two or more are gathered, there is the Divine Word that became flesh in our world. Let us transform our society into a better world by living the gifts and tasks of learning a language. And, let us begin with the word “us.”

For I was a stranger

By Jorge Zetino SVD

refugees_lasagrada-familia_by-kelly-latimore_sized-for-blog
“Refugees: LaSagrada Familia” by Kelly Latimore (kellylatimoreicons.com)

Over the past few weeks, I have been overwhelmed by the rhetoric regarding refugees seeking asylum in our country. Images of Middle Eastern men, women and children—stranded at U.S. airports due to the “travel ban” issued by the current administration—are everywhere on social media and in the news.

As a spectator following the news from the comfort and safety of my religious community’s house, I can’t help but be reminded of the story of another Middle Eastern family. Right after the birth to their firstborn son, the father was told to “rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt” (Mt 2:3).

And so as he was told, the father took the newborn child and his mother, in the middle of the night, and departed for another land where their family—especially their child—would be safe from the massacre of the infants that would take place back home. This Middle Eastern family, as the story goes, was told to stay in that foreign land until told otherwise.

It is precisely the story of that little and vulnerable Middle Eastern refugee child—and who he became—that inspired me to follow in his footsteps and to continue his mission. This little boy’s name was Jesus.

However, today I am reminded that before he was known as Jesus the Christ (through his death and resurrection), he was Jesus the Nazarene (See Mt 2:22). Even before he was known as the “Nazarene,” he was—at a young age—a refugee and an asylum-seeker in a neighboring land: Egypt.

So every time I turn on my television or scroll down my Facebook newsfeed, I am appalled by the rhetoric used, not only by our new administration but also by fellow Christians around the country regarding the “travel ban” of citizens from seven Middle Eastern countries who happen to be Muslims.

I acknowledge that we now live in a polarized society as witnessed during the last campaign season. The topic of refugees often becomes a subject for division in conversations with friends and family—yes, even among Catholic circles.

There is nothing wrong for fellow citizens to be concerned with the safety of our country and of our neighborhoods. After all, there is a precedent for such concern, one that is very much alive in the minds and hearts of many—a precedent that we remember every year and have pledged to #neverforget. As an American, I share the concern of fellow Americans. As a Catholic Christian, however, I am concerned by the way we—as a nation—seem to be going about security in our neighborhoods and on our streets. At what cost do we do it?

I think Angelina Jolie articulated it well in her recent New York Times op-ed by writing that “we can manage our security without writing off citizens of entire countries—even babies—as unsafe to visit our country by virtue of geography or religion.”

As a Christian nation, closing the door to those—like Jesus and his parents—who are forced to leave their homelands to seek refuge on more stable and safe grounds is not the compassionate way we are called to live, especially if we are “one nation under God.”

The image of an asylum-seeking Jesus continues to haunt me, especially in light of what is happening in our nation these days. Are we forgetting that Jesus Christ, the Son of God was a refugee? If we are, we only need to turn to the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew: “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35). If we are indeed Christians, shouldn’t we be doing that? Aren’t we called to feed the hungry and welcome the stranger? Even in the midst of our own fears?

As a Catholic Christian, an immigrant, a Divine Word Missionary who is advocating for the welcoming of strangers—whether they are refugees from the Middle East or from Central America—I view this welcoming of strangers as the American thing to do and the right thing to do. It is also the Christian way.

As a Divine Word Missionary, I am dedicating my life not only to being a “man for others” but also to working every day, in spite of my own weaknesses and limitations, to continue Jesus’ mission on earth because “his mission is our mission.”

As Catholics, we now have a tremendous opportunity to partake in Jesus’ mission, to be “good Samaritans.” Who do we choose to be? Are we the priest walking down the streets of Jericho who—upon seeing the man who had been attacked by robbers—moved to the other side and continued on his way? Are we the Levite who also chose to ignore the man on the street, who passed by him and continued his journey?  Or can we be like the Samaritan who saw the man, “took pity on him” and bandaged the man’s wound, poured oil and wine on him, and even took him to an inn where he could be taken care of? (See Lk 10:29-37).

Yes, we live in a polarized society, but I believe that we also live in a society that has the capacity to be compassionate and merciful towards the stranger. We have done it before!

We have welcomed the stranger before. One needs only to look to our nation’s history. We have the opportunity, once again, to “love our neighbor,” to be “good Samaritans” towards those who may not look like us, may not speak our language, or may not have the same religion beliefs as ours. As a nation and as individual Christians, we have the opportunity to welcome Jesus Christ personified as a Middle Eastern refugee—yet once again!