The immigrant caravan through the church’s eyes

By Peter Weiss | Special to The Compass | December 11, 2018

In Latin American cultures, a common tradition to prepare for Christmas is to celebrate Las Posadas. Las Posadas, which means “inn” or “shelter,” recalls the experience of Mary and Joseph as they seek to find shelter so that Mary can give birth to Jesus.

In communities that celebrate Las Posadas, a couple is designated as Mary and Joseph and from Dec. 16 to 24, they visit different homes asking for shelter. The couple sings a song requesting shelter, and those in the home respond with a song saying that there is no room. Finally, on the last evening, when Mary and Joseph request shelter, they are welcomed into a home, leading to a great celebration for all the people who have participated.

As I reflect on this tradition, I think about the “migrant caravan” that has been in the news recently. This mass of people began their journey in Honduras in October and the numbers grew as they journeyed north, picking up other migrants from El Salvador and Guatemala. These three countries are some of the most violent in the world and many are leaving because of the violence and the persecution they face if they stay.  Because of the difficulty of this journey, families join together hoping to ensure safety through numbers.

The number of people in the caravan has fluctuated as they have made their way north, with some deciding to remain in Mexico and others seeking entry into the United States. In either case, many of the migrants are seeking safety and security by requesting asylum.

In the United States, our laws have long protected the right for people to claim asylum when their lives or freedom are under threat in their country of origin. These protections have been so important that even people who do not enter through official ports of entry are allowed to request asylum to avoid deportation. Recently, President Trump issued a proclamation that migrants could only request asylum at designated ports of entry, but implementation of this policy has been on hold because of litigation.

Currently, many of the migrants trying to come to the U.S. are located in Tijuana as they wait to make their way across the border into San Diego. However, immigration officials are limiting the number of people who can make asylum claims each day, meaning the vast majority of the migrants simply have to wait.

So what does the church say about all of this? The leader of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, Bishop Joe Vásquez, along with the presidents of Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services, issued a statement on the caravan in October. Their statement reiterated the five key principles that guide the church’s approach to migration:

  1. (1) Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland;
  2. (2) Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families;
  3. (3) Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders;
  4. (4) Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection; and
  5. (5) The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected. The statement ended by reminding us that, “As Christians, we must answer the call to act with compassion towards those in need and to work together to find humane solutions that honor the rule of law and respect the dignity of human life.”

In that spirit, I would encourage you to take some time to reflect on how you might take action on this issue. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Pray for all migrants and their families that they may find the safety, peace and security they are seeking. Pray also for immigration and law enforcement officials that they might faithfully exercise their responsibilities in ways that are humane and just.
  • Learn more about the migrant caravan and other aspects of migration and the church’s teaching by visiting the USCCB’s Justice for Immigrants website,
  • Consider making a donation to organizations working to support migrants including Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services.
  • Reach out to your political leaders encouraging them to work for comprehensive immigration reform rooted in the five principles highlighted above.

In a few days, the celebrations of Las Posadas will begin in places throughout Latin America. While the tradition is a reminder of what took place so many years ago, for many people, this tradition speaks to an all-too-familiar reality. So as you prepare for Christmas this year, I invite you to take some time to reflect on the many migrants around the world who are simply looking for a safe place to live. And ask yourself, “If this migrant family was the Holy Family, would I offer them a safe place to stay?”

Weiss is Living Justice Advocate for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay.

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