CHARLESTON – While meditating on the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross, Bishop Robert J. Baker asked South Carolina Catholics to consider the suffering of immigrants and strangers.
During his Good Friday homily at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist April 14, Bishop Baker asked Catholics to pray and meditate on the plight of the “strangers in our midst from countries to the south of us, laboring for us and living with us, people who have suffered greatly to come to the United States. They are people suffering very much now. They are struggling immigrants and suffering strangers.
“I believe Jesus on the cross today speaks a message of concern and care for them. He loves them. He died for them. He welcomes them,” the bishop said.
He reminded the faithful that their Judeo-Christian heritage is characterized by a preferential love for the stranger. Jewish scriptures challenge their readers to welcome the stranger, he said. He cited Exodus 22:20: “You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” He also cited Old Testament scriptural references of the Jewish nomadic existence and New Testament Christian writings.
“In Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 25, we learn that attaining the kingdom of heaven will depend on how well we welcomed the stranger. The stranger was Jesus in our midst (Matt 25:35 – ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’). Is the stranger suffering, lonely, or lost? That is Jesus suffering, lonely, and lost. From Jesus, especially from Jesus on the cross, we receive a summons to welcome the stranger when and as we can, to absorb the stranger into our community, when and as we can.”
In reminding people of how much others will risk to enter the United States, he told the story of the 11 suspected illegal immigrants from Mexico who died in a locked railroad car. Their decomposed bodies were discovered in Denison, Iowa.
“It doesn’t matter how they got there,” he said. “We know why. They were looking for work, for a better life, for a livelihood. People in need of work to survive go to such extents just to survive.”
Dismissing the idea that illegal immigrants should be left for others to worry about, the bishop said that Christians know better.
“It was our Lord who suffered and died in that freight car, as he suffered and died on Calvary,” he said. “And he would want us to treat these people better. He would want us to find a way to address the plight they find themselves in. He suffered and died to help suffering humanity.”
In addressing what he said are legitimate concerns about the potential effects of absorbing illegal immigrants – such as the lack of jobs, the costs to taxpayers, the drain on welfare – the South Carolina prelate said that most illegal immigrants’ work habits have answered those fears already.
Though he said the concerns about border protection and terrorist threats need to receive serious attention, those issues should be addressed in ways that are humane and fair.
“Borders between countries cannot be ignored, nor can the laws of a country,” Bishop Baker said. “But the Judeo-Christian teaching about welcoming the stranger stands as a summons to be heeded by all who take their Jewish and Christian faith seriously. This also seems to be a summons from the Cross of Christ this Good Friday to us Christians of South Carolina, inviting us to respond to the plight of those who suffer great hardship, like the stranger in our midst.
“As we would bring our sufferings to the cross for healing and help, so we must bring the sufferings of others to that cross as well today,” Bishop Baker said. “As he brings healing and recovery and new life to us from the cross, he calls us to be his instruments of bringing healing and recovery, hospitality and new life to those who come to us in their suffering and need.”
Editor’s note: The complete text of Bishop Baker’s homily can be found at www.catholic-doc.org.