DE PERE — The Parable of The Good Samaritan is never far from top-of-mind for Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas.
His diocese and his see city are on the front lines of the immigration issue.
“I think about that parable often,” Bishop Seitz said, “and the Gospel story of Lazarus and the rich man and chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel. On the border, those parables are unavoidable, inescapable.”
How Bishop Seitz has led his diocese in responding with mercy and compassion to those seeking refuge in the United States, and how he has become a voice for migrants, brought him to Wisconsin Oct. 11 to receive the 2021 St. Norbert Ambassador of Peace Award. The honor is given annually by the Norman Miller Center for Peace, Justice & Public Understanding at St. Norbert College.
St. Norbert faculty member Angel Saavedra Cisneros nominated Bishop Seitz for the award “because of his commitment to those who are often forgotten, those who might seem least familiar,” Cisneros said.
“Bishop Seitz believes that migrants add inestimable value to the communities where they chose to live, and that parishes and community members should welcome them with compassion, love and solidarity.”
Robert Pyne, director of the Norman Miller Center, said the committee that approved the nomination was eager to honor Bishop Seitz. “It was a timeless opportunity to recognize someone who is a champion of caring for the stranger and of hospitality,” Pyne said.
He pointed out that Pope Francis had telephoned Bishop Seitz to thank him for his work on behalf of those seeking asylum, and that this year the pope had also recognized the Norbertine order on the 900th anniversary of St. Norbert of Xanten founding the order. St. Norbert was noted for his efforts toward peace and reconciliation among warring states in 12th-century Europe.
Limiting our compassion
“We have a tendency to limit the number of those for whom we feel responsible and obliged to love and care for,” Bishop Seitz told The Compass. “We don’t feel it’s possible to care for many people. We find ways to draw lines to limit our circle of concern.
“If we examine the teaching of Jesus, the essence of his teaching is that the love of God is expansive. Love those close to you, of course, but don’t let that limit your love.” Being open to the mystery of God’s grace, he said, “allows us to help people beyond who we thought possible.”
His role as ‘doctor of souls’
He sees his role as priest and bishop as that of a “doctor of souls,” Bishop Seitz said. “And my diagnosis is that our people are suffering a severe condition of the hardening of the heart. The sense is that we don’t need to care, we don’t have to have compassion.”
People are dying for our lack of care, he added, and that concerns him as a priest.
“If we are suffering from hardening of the heart,” Bishop Seitz said, “we are putting on the line our own salvation.”
He said he was surprised at the growing Latino population in the Diocese of Green Bay, noting, “There’s a lot happening in Green Bay (with regard to welcome and hospitality for migrant people),” Bishop Seitz said, “but we need to do a lot more.
Latinos: ‘new kids on block’
“They’re our family who are here. They are the new kids on the block and are just beginning here. We need to extend ourselves. We need to reach out. The benefit will be ours, because the Latino community are a treasure for us,” he added.
During a formal presentation seen both by an in-person audience on the St. Norbert campus and online via Zoom Oct. 11, Bishop Seitz tied the need for Catholics to reach out to the strangers in their midst for a better understanding of the Eucharist.
Like those of the Jewish traditions, upon which the Mass finds its foundation, the values of “love, mercy, forgiveness, hospitality, inclusion, the defense of the poor and downtrodden . . . are not just values which are intended to remain abstract or walled off in individualistic spirituality,” Bishop Seitz said. “We are meant to translate them into history so that they become public and shape our common life.
“And this revelation turns upside down the worldly values of competitiveness, self-interest, indifference, thirst for domination, the cult of celebrity and wealth.”
El Paso border Masses
During his talk, titled “Eucharist: The Body of Christ in History,” the bishop showed a video of the annual Border Mass at which people on the El Paso side of the Rio Grande River join with those of its adjacent sister-city, Ciudad Juárez, south of the river, to jointly celebrate the Eucharist.
“Those north and south are nourished at one altar,” he noted.
“Our being gathered into one people by the Holy Spirit is a divine event that cannot but call into question ongoing structures of division, separation and injustice; the racism and hyper-nationalism upon which much of our immigration policy is based, the guns, the walls, the drones, the policies. What is more real — the border wall or the Body of Christ?
“On which should we place our most central commitments? On which should we bet our lives? Our hope?” he asked. “For the Christian, there can be only one response.”