Last month a “caravan” of refugees, escaping violence in Honduras, set off by foot for the Texas border, hoping to apply for asylum. Labeling the Caravan an “army of invaders,” the President threatened to “seal the border.” The Caravan was said to include “Unknown Middle Easterners,” gang members, and dangerous criminals, paid for and organized by George Soros, a Jewish philanthropist and donor to liberal causes.
Responding to this “crisis,” one fanatic, armed with an AR-15, invaded the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 worshippers. He was especially aroused by the work of HIAS, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which for 150 years has assisted refugees and immigrants.
The command to remember the stranger, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” is a central tenet of the Jewish faith. The victims at Tree of Life were targeted out of hatred for a faith that expressed itself in mercy. And thus they died as martyrs.
May their memory be a blessing. May it cause people of all faiths to step back from the wave of hatred and fear that inevitably issues in violence. It did not do this for the President, who campaigned that very day on his usual themes. But for many others, drawing on the “better angels” of our history and our faith traditions, perhaps it will open hearts to another way.
In Soul Seeing: Light, Love, Forgiveness, Michael Leach has gathered over fifty of the best essays from the award-winning column he has edited for the National Catholic Reporter. Authors such as Brian Doyle, James Martin, Joyce Rupp, and Heather King show us how to look at the ordinary and see the extraordinary, “the good and the beautiful that hides behind forms and breaks through experiences like flowers through cracks in a sidewalk.” Each of these pieces is a small inoculation against the forces blind us to our underlying oneness.
In I Am Indeed Your Brother: A Servant of Jesus among Allah’s Poor, Bob McCahill, a Maryknoll priest, chronicles his life in Bangladesh over the past forty years. Rather than traditional pastoral work, he simply tries to live as a friend and brother to his poor Muslim neighbors, offering a positive witness to the Gospel ideals of love and service. His reflections offer a remarkable portrait of Christian solidarity, along with lessons that emerge from the “dialogue of life.”
A new edition of Nonviolence in America: A Documentary History, edited by veteran peacemakers Staughton and Alice Lynd, chronicles the long tradition of resistance and dissent that has constantly enlarged the scope of freedom, justice, and equality in this country. From the early abolitionists through the Civil Rights struggle, to campaigns of solidarity with refugees or in defense of our planet, these voices present a timely and prophetic counter-balance to voices of hatred and division.
Finally, a reminder that the call to welcome the stranger, so central in the Jewish faith, was embraced in a radical form by Jesus himself. A Stranger and You Welcomed Me, Pope Francis’s “Call to Mercy and Solidarity with Migrants and Refugees,” takes its title from Christ’s words: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Insofar as you did this to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:35-40)
May we stand with the holy martyrs of Tree of Life. May their memory nourish seeds of Life and Mercy that will overshadow all the forces that demean and divide us.