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Don’t forget the poor. Don’t forget the immigrants.

| Monday, January 21, 2019

For nearly a half century, the Catholic Church in the United States has celebrated National Migration Week the week following the Epiphany (this year, the celebration was Jan. 6-13, 2019).

The week is an opportunity for the Church to reflect on the circumstances confronting immigrants, refugees, children, victims and survivors of human trafficking. The theme for this year’s National Migration Week was “Building Communities of Welcome.” Each of our families has a migration story, some recent and others in the distant past. Regardless of where we are and where we came from, we remain part of the human family and are called to live in solidarity with one another. The urgency to do this cannot be lost at this critical time in our country today with all the discussion about the southern border of the United States.

Unfortunately, in our contemporary culture we often fail to encounter migrants as persons and instead look at them as unknown others. We do not take the time to engage migrants in a meaningful way, as fellow children of God, but often remain suspicious or fearful of them. We are encouraged to think of them as rapists, criminals, drug traffickers and worse. We hear them called illegals, as though a human being could possibly be illegal.

During the Christmas break, I had the great privilege of spending one week working at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, founded and directed by Sister Norma Pimentel, M.J. Sister Norma received Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal at our commencement this past May.   

I learned many things from my week at the Respite Center. I learned how to wash, dry and fold towels — 400 a day — so I can now apply for a job at St. Michael’s Laundry! I learned how to empty trash and reuse trash bags. I learned how to stretch soup by adding more water to it. I learned again why Jesus hung around the poor and spent a lot of time with them and called them blessed. I learned the truth that the less we have, the more we trust in God to provide for us. I learned that the poor do not know the word entitlement and are grateful for everything they have.

But more than anything, I learned how important it is for us to not forget the immigrants and the poor. In what is now a famous story, we know that during the Conclave that elected Pope Francis, as the votes were being counted and it was clear that Jorge Mario Bergoglio would be elected pope, his friend Cardinal Claudio Hummes from Brazil turned to him and said, “Jorge, don’t forget the poor.” And he has not.

The poor can help us understand the Good News of Jesus, the Good News he was sent to bring to them. The poor can help us be liberated from all the material possessions that imprison us. I am embarrassed to admit that I don’t want to move from Dillon to the new hall because I have too much crap.   

We need to have people tell us “don’t forget the poor” every morning and every afternoon and every evening. If in our day to day life we do not find people who tell us this, then we have to find our way and do something so that we will be reminded again and again not to forget the poor. Or else we will forget them. It’s that simple. And woe to us if we forget the poor.   

I am grateful to work and live here at Notre Dame. We have to be careful, however, that we do not live in such a way that we do not hear these words. “Don’t forget the poor.” If we don’t hear them, we have to find ways to hear them. Each of us might have a different way of hearing those words, but we have to hear them and act upon them.

“Don’t forget the poor. Don’t forget the immigrants.” They will save us and lead us to Jesus. How are we going to hear those words in our day-to-day life? We have to hear them because woe to us if we forget the poor.

I’ll be giving a talk on Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. in the Coleman-Morse lounge titled “Another Narrative from the Border.” Admission is free, of course, though I’ll be glad to accept any belts you wish to donate. There is a great need for belts at Sister Norma’s Respite Center.

Father Joe Corpora, C.S.C., serves on the Campus Ministry Pastoral Care team, works in the Alliance for Catholic Education, and is a priest-in-residence in Dillon Hall. He can be reached at [email protected] 

Learn more about Campus Ministry at CampusMinistry.nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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