In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus affirms God’s love and care for all creation. He assures us that even what we consider the smallest and insignificant creatures are under God’s protection. Working on the border in El Paso, I have heard migrants speak of their great trust in God to help and protect them on their journey while fleeing violence, poverty, and natural disasters. No matter how horrendous their trip has been, such as facing extortion, kidnapping, or crossing dangerous terrain, they never lose faith that God will lead them to safety. They believe what Jesus says in the Gospel, “So do not be afraid; you are worth more than sparrows.”
Sacred Heart Church was the place where most of the migrants congregated before the end of Title 42. I witnessed the thousands of people camped out on the sidewalk and Church property, since the shelter could hold only a couple hundred people. Fortunately, the Diocese of El Paso and the community came together to help feed and meet the basic needs of the migrants, as they have for many years.
Pope Francis writes in Fratelli Tutti: “Migrants are not seen as entitled like others to participate in the life of society, and it is forgotten that they possess the same intrinsic dignity as any person. Hence, they ought to be ‘agents in their own redemption.’ No one will ever openly deny that they are human beings, yet in practice, by our decisions and the way we treat them, we can show that we consider them less worthy, less important, less human. For Christians, this way of thinking and acting is unacceptable, since it sets certain political preferences above deep convictions of our faith: the inalienable dignity of each human person regardless of origin, race or religion, and the supreme law of fraternal love.” (excerpted from #39)
Migrants are often not treated as our brothers and sisters. The cruel rhetoric, harsh treatment of locking them in detention centers and busing and flying them around the country for political reasons demonstrates the lack of dignity they encounter. They are not treated as if they are worth more than sparrows.
In El Paso in 2019, a mass shooting at the Walmart in El Paso claimed the lives of 23 people and injured many more. The perpetrator came to El Paso intending to kill migrants. In Texas in 2022 and 2023, there was the murder of a family of migrants, migrants killed by vigilantes, eight migrants run over and killed at a bus stop, and 51 migrants died while locked in a tractor trailer. Even once in the United States, migrants face violence and mistreatment.
Recently, I met a Colombian migrant who was held in detention for four months, despite having a sponsor. One of the ICE officers, without a legitimate reason, would not accept the credentials of her cousin, who offered to be her sponsor. Fortunately, she was able to obtain help from a non-profit called Las Americas, which provides legal services, to file a complaint against him. Las Americas helped her get another, local sponsor who had to jump through invented hoops by ICE that were not part of the system to finally get her out of detention. She told us of the inhumane treatment she experienced and is grateful to finally be reunited with her family. Many migrants do not have access to attorneys or others to advocate for them.
The first reading from Jeremiah ends, “Sing to the Lord, Praise the Lord, for he has rescued the poor from the power of the wicked.” Those who abuse their power to harm others are going against Jesus’ call to love our neighbors and treat them well. As Christians, we need to show compassion to those most in need and those who are being treated without dignity. The people who are being harmed need allies and advocates who are not afraid to speak out and offer assistance. We don’t need to look far in our communities and neighborhoods to find ways to give aid and respond to our brothers and sisters who are being treated unjustly.
Maryknoll Lay Missioner Debbie Northern, who joined the organization in 1999, served in mission in Tanzania and El Salvador prior to her current assignment at the United States/Mexico border.
Featured image: Sacred Heart parish in El Paso, Texas, offers respite and a meal to migrants in search of safety. (Courtesy of Debbie Northern/U.S.)