Cardinal Raymond Burke speaks at a pro-life and pro-family conference in Rome on May 17, 2019. (National Catholic Reporter)
Back in February of this year, Pope Francis asked Catholics who have had the “joy” of assisting migrants and refugees to “proclaim it from the rooftops, openly, to help others do the same, preparing themselves to encounter Christ and His salvation.” (February 15, 2019 in Sacrofano, Italy at the conference entitled, “Welcoming Communities: Free of Fear”)
Although a limited experience, I have shared in this joy, welcoming immigrants to the United States. In my own Catholic diocese, I helped resettle a Laotian family and an Islamic family from Northern Africa. For me, this welcome took the form of an American and his pickup truck—as that was my role—collecting donated furniture from parishes and delivering it to their new homes. And joy describes it aptly: arriving with truckloads of furniture and appliances while grateful recipients helped me to unload and carry in the contents of their growing households, building their new lives in the US.
This for me is patriotism.
It was with great sadness, then, that I read of Cardinal Raymond Burke’s statement on May 17 that limiting “large-scale Muslim immigration is in fact…a responsible exercise of one’s patriotism.” [See Robert Duncan’s report at the National Catholic Reporter.]
My experience is just the opposite. Welcoming the immigrant has enhanced my patriotism, as well as my faith. Cardinal Burke resorts to stoking fear of the other so as to create the false spectre of impending waves of Islamic immigration, falsely portrayed by him as believing themselves “destined to rule the world.”
Pope Francis advocates instead a culture of mutual encounter, hallmarked by gratitude:
We must begin to thank those who give us the opportunity for this encounter, namely, the “others” who knock on our doors, giving us the possibility to overcome our fears in order to encounter, welcome, and assist Jesus in person. The encounter with the “other,” then, is also an encounter with Christ. He Himself told us this. It is He who knocks on our door hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned, asking to be met and assisted.
My patriotism and faith resonate with Pope Francis’ vision, in stark contrast to Burke’s cowering reflex to fear and division.
As I write, today [May 21] is the 23rd anniversary of the deaths of the Trappist Monks of Atlas Abbey of Tibhirine, in Algeria. Before their murder, the Abbot, Dom Christian de Chergé, presciently wrote his personal Testament, forgiving in advance those who would kill him. More tellingly still, he wrote of the perspective which beatific vision would give him in death:
This is what I shall be able to do, God willing: immerse my gaze in that of the Father to contemplate with Him His children of Islam just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and restore the likeness, playing with the differences.
We hear in sharp contrast Burke’s statement as he disparaged immigrants overall “who are opportunists, in particular in the case of Islam.” Distressingly, he shows himself singularly lacking in sharing the vision of the one God who is Father to us all. Absent also is the teaching of Vatican II that “[t]he Church regards with esteem also the Moslems [sic]. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth…” (Nostra Aetate, October 28, 1965)
I will continue to take joy in welcoming immigrants to this verdant country. I delight in my deep and lasting friendships with my Muslim neighbors. My patriotism welcomes people of diverse faiths to find sanctuary and refuge in this, my native homeland. And I hope to join in Dom Christian’s vision of the children of Islam, beloved of the Father, and resplendent in the glory of the holy prophet, Jesus.
Both Pope Francis and Dom Christian speak of joy. And this is the joy which they both proclaim: discovering the hidden image of God asking to be met, welcomed, and restored.
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Kevin Elphick holds a DMin from Graduate Theological Foundation with a concentration in ecumenism. Earlier he obtained an MA in Franciscan Studies from St. Bonaventure University and an MA in Religious Studies from Loyola University in conjunction with a joint studies program at Spertus College of Judaica. He is a Companion of New Skete, and works as a supervisor with a suicide prevention hotline serving veterans and active duty members. He was one of our first guest authors at Orthodoxy in Dialogue.