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Pineda lectures on faith, immigration

Marcela Berrios | Thursday, September 7, 2006

Everyone – from congressmen to human rights activists – has voiced an opinion on immigration regulation and border enforcement, but perhaps there is a simple, less bureaucratic solution to this highly complex problem.

What would Jesus do?

Theologian Ana Maria Pineda of Santa Clara University made her audience question that Wednesday night at the Stapleton Lounge in Le Mans Hall, thus kicking off the “Bringing Tradition to Life” Lecture Series at Saint Mary’s College.

The lectures hope to “[breathe] new life back into our understanding of the [Catholic] tradition,” which includes ideals such as extending hospitality to the stranger, Director of the Center for Spirituality Sr. Kathleen Dolphin said.

In the spirit of finding ways to adapt these endangered religious principles to modern times, Pineda said, today’s Catholics should simply act with compassion and generosity as is required of them – towards the less fortunate refugees and immigrants.

“The ancient practice of welcoming the stranger and offering hospitality to him is a moral imperative,” Pineda said. “We do not have a choice.”

She emphasized the abundance of examples in the Old Testament where the exiled people of Israel were immigrants in need of a helping hand, and later in the New Testament when Jesus Christ asked his followers to treat “the least of these brothers of mine” as if they were Son of God.

Pineda then reminded the audience who would be, in this day and age, these least brothers of whom the Bible speaks – and they’re not just the refugees and immigrants from Latin America.

“There are thousands of people still displaced due to Hurricane Katrina,” she said.

“There are millions of people dying in Ethiopia from starvation, and millions more in Pakistan are homeless as a result of the great earthquake,” she said.

She said there are many ways every person or organization can help.

Pineda recounted a recent controversy at Santa Clara – some of the benefactors of Santa Clara University threatened to discontinue their funding when they found out that some of the students enrolled and awarded financial aid were actually undocumented immigrants.

However, Santa Clara did not give in to this pressure and supported its students’ right to receive higher education, regardless of a lack of proper documentation, said Pineda.

She also said that people should not make judgments about the immigrants based on common misconceptions, like the false idea that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes, or the notion that terrorist threats can de reduced by closing the Mexican border.

“I had always thought that immigration laws should be tighter, and that people needed to get their papers straight before coming here,” Saint Mary’s junior Stephanie James said after the lecture. “But Dr. Pineda has really made me think about these issues like a Christian instead of a political science student.”

Notre Dame graduate student Leo Guardado also found the lecture inspiring.

Guardado and his mother fled El Salvador in the 1980s to avoid being drafted during the Civil War that was raging, and though he did not have the appropriate documentation at the time, he received a scholarship to complete his undergraduate studies at St. Mary’s College in California.

He has since become a legal resident of the United States.

“If they had closed their doors to me back then simply because I didn’t have the right papers, I probably wouldn’t be here today,” he said.

Saint Mary’s junior Suzanne Swygart also agreed that spreading the concept of tolerance and generosity in this particular issue will only benefit society at large.

“Cultural diversity is something that we should always welcome and strive to achieve,” she said. “I think we need to address this in parishes and Catholic schools throughout the nation.”

The “Bringing Life to Tradition” Lecture Series will continue today with Boston University’s Claire Wolfteich, and her take on women’s task of balancing spirituality and the pressure of the workplace.

On Monday, actress Nancy Murray will wrap up the Lecture Series with an impersonation of Saint Catherine of Siena titled “Voices from the Past, Wisdom for Today, Hope for Tomorrow.”