(Vatican Radio) Building walls and banning immigrants means “deporting the heart of America” and “letting the politics of fear rule us”. That’s the view of American theologian and author Father Dan Groody, who heads a centre for Latino spirituality and culture at Notre Dame University in Indiana.
After spending time running retreat programmes for immigrants on the U.S.-Mexico border, Fr Dan has been developing a theology of migration, challenging Christians to view themselves as migrants and Jesus as an illegal immigrant who “put Mary outside the law”.
Philippa Hitchen sat down with Fr Dan to hear how new U.S. legislation will affect his country’s immigrant communities and how global migration can be viewed from a theological perspective...
Fr Dan’s interest in Latino spirituality began when he lived in Uruguay, Argentina and Chile during the dictatorship years. Following his ordination, he worked with the Valley Missionary Program in southern California, offering retreats in migrant camps and discovering “the life, the faith and the vibrancy” of the Latino communities.
Politics of fear
As well as being inspired by the joy and generosity of the people, he also saw the poverty and suffering of many who died in the desert trying to cross the border into the U.S. President Trump’s pledge to continue sealing off the U.S. – Mexico border, he says, resolves nothing and is simply “closing us off….deporting the heart of America… and letting the politics of fear rule us”
The poor, he notes, will feel the brunt of the latest anti-immigrant measures, which he terms “political bravado, trying to sound tough”. Furthermore he says, the legislation may “put a target on our back” by being offensive to Mexicans, Muslims and others, leaving “more people wanting to harm us” instead of “globalizing solidarity” as Pope John Paul II called for.
Broad ethic of life
Fr Dan applauds Catholic communities and leaders who’ve been protesting against the legislation which he sees as deeply divisive. While Donald Trump won the presidential election, Fr Dan says real authority “compels by virtue of goodness, not by fear, and in this case, I’m yet to see it”. While praising the new administration’s “movement in the right direction” on abortion, Fr Dan says the “ethic of life is a broad issue”, including problems of poverty, inequality and migration.
Jesus as 'illegal' migrant
From a theological perspective, Fr Dan speaks of the Incarnation in terms of Jesus as a migrant, moving “into the otherness of human skin as the divine spirit”. Scripture, he continues, “challenges us at a deep level” to see Jesus as “illegal from the beginning, because when the Annunciation happened, Mary was betrothed to Joseph” and to be found pregnant by somebody else “would have put Mary outside the law”. “Why would God choose that moment to migrate into Mary’s womb and become human?”, he asks, suggesting that God is opening up “a space for hope for all those outside the law, even for those considered illegal”.
Fr Dan reflects on Pope Francis’s visit to the island of Lampedusa, celebrating Mass with a chalice made from the wood of a refugee boat. While most of those on board were saved, some died, making the chalice both “a cup of suffering” but also a symbol of salvation and hope, he says.
Immigrants save the Church
In a similar way, Fr Dan speaks of the annual Mass celebrated each November by bishops on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border fence. This is not politicizing the liturgy, he says, but rather a “strong spiritual statement which has political implications”, stressing that “even though these walls are here, we do profess….we are one body, regardless of our nationality”.
Fr Dan says “when borders become barriers” and we “disconnect from our neighbour in need”, then “we become alien to who we’re called to be as human beings”. The faith of migrants amidst the most desperate of situations, he concludes, reminds us that “it’s not that the church saves the immigrant, it’s the immigrant who saves the church”.