Seeing the human beings behind the issues

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Bishop Ricken

I write this column to you with a heavy heart. Like many of you, I have seen the image of Oscar Martinez and his daughter Angie Valeria that recently went viral, after they had drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande River. I don’t know how someone can see this image and not feel profoundly sad that this is the reality faced by so many people seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

But it’s not just this image that has me feeling sad. I feel equally sad at the many examples that we see every day of a loss of the meaning and value of human life. We see this in the unborn, and even in some cases, the recently born, who are treated as problems to be fixed, rather than images of our Divine Creator. We see this among our sick and elderly who face pressure to “die with dignity” by taking their own lives, rather than receiving loving care in their time of need. We see this in the countless victims of violence who have been targeted because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religious beliefs.

Now, perhaps as some of you are reading this, you’re thinking to yourselves, “There goes Bishop, wading into politics. I wish he would just keep his political views to himself.” But this isn’t about politics, this is about human beings. As Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Bishop Joe Vasquez of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, said in a statement about this image of Oscar and Valeria, a father and daughter, “This image cries to heaven for justice. This image silences politics.”

Yes, there is a political dimension to the issue of immigration, as there are political dimensions to abortion and assisted suicide and homelessness and any other number of problems in our world today. But there is something fundamentally broken in our society if our first response at seeing an image like this is to debate politics and who is right and who is wrong.

Brothers and sisters, we must find a way to look past the politics and focus instead on our fellow human beings, especially those who are victims of what Pope Francis has called our “throwaway culture.” We must ask ourselves, “Why would a young father feel so desperate that he would risk his child’s life to get to our country? Why would a mother feel so desperate that the best solution she can find for her unexpected pregnancy is to end her child’s life?”

Let’s move beyond the labels, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, right or left. Let’s become humans whose political choices are rooted in a sense of care and concern for all humans, especially the poor and vulnerable. And let’s not allow our ideologies to take priority over our common humanity as brothers and sisters in Christ created in the image and likeness of God.

This is no easy task, and I know I need as much help as anyone. So, recognizing the challenge that is before us, let me close in prayer.

Dear Jesus, you have given us the perfect example of how to affirm the dignity and humanity of all people. May we learn from you how to treat every person as sacred and created in your image. I pray especially that you would be close to those in our world who are so often treated as less than human – the migrant, the unborn, the elderly, the single parent, the sick and countless others. And give us the grace and courage that we might be close to these brothers and sisters of ours as well. St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.

Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter at @BpDavidRicken.