In the Gospel of Matthew, in a passage known as “The Judgment of the Nations,” Jesus gives us a picture of what the day of judgment will look like. He talks about a king dividing people up, those on his right inheriting the Kingdom, and those on his left being sent to eternal fire. The determining factor to where people will go is how they responded when they saw the king hungry or thirsty, as a stranger or naked, ill or in prison. Asked when they saw the king in these states, Jesus replies, “What you did (or did not do) for these least ones, you did (or did not do) for me.”
These are some of the clearest, yet most challenging words in the Gospels. Each of us must examine our lives, asking ourselves whether or not we are responding to this challenge. If we are honest with ourselves, I’m sure we can all find some ways that we can grow.
This passage came to mind recently, in light of some concerns that have been expressed about the work of Catholic Charities. There has been some media coverage of the efforts of Catholic Charities agencies who work on our border to support the humanitarian needs of men and women who have come into our country. Some have accused these agencies of contributing to illegal immigration, and here, locally, I have heard from people who are concerned about whether the money they give to support the Bishop’s Appeal and our local Catholic Charities is supporting illegal immigration. So, I would like to set the record straight.
First of all, each Catholic Charities around the country is an independent organization, run by a local board with oversight from the bishop. In the Diocese of Green Bay, I am chair of the board for Catholic Charities and all donations that Catholic Charities receives go to support needs in our local community.
Second, the work of Catholic Charities is humanitarian, not political. The purpose statement of our local Catholic Charities says, “As missionary disciples, Catholic Charities labors in our communities inviting and serving those who have often been left out or felt alone to know and experience the tremendous and abundant love of God through his Son Jesus Christ.” In other words, where they see humans in need, Catholic Charities does its best to respond to those needs. Their work is done in compliance with local, state and federal laws.
Lastly, and, perhaps most importantly, Catholic Charities is responding to the Gospel call to welcome the stranger. Over the past five months, we have witnessed a beautiful and inspiring example of this response locally as Catholic Charities has assisted in the resettlement process of Afghan refugees. Since October, they have helped bring 130 Afghan refugees to our diocese and assisted them in getting settled and established in our community. These are individuals and families who have come here with the bare minimum, leaving behind their home, family and friends, and coming to an unknown place to start a completely new life. They are here in search of freedom and safety, simply wanting to make a life for themselves and their families, despite the challenges they have had to overcome.
Through a generous and overwhelming response from members of the community in donations and volunteer support, Catholic Charities has helped these families find housing, jobs, clothing and basic household necessities. They are working with a variety of community partners to help our Afghan neighbors get integrated into the community by enrolling their children in school, learning English, getting their driver’s license and understanding our American culture. Their efforts have been tireless and they have done this work with enthusiasm and patience, in the midst of many challenges, because they recognize the importance of this work in the faces of each individual and family they serve.
Friends, responding to the Gospel call to welcome the stranger is challenging. But sometimes we make it more difficult than it needs to be. The example of Catholic Charities to see the face of Christ in the strangers around us and to offer welcome and support is one worth following. I hope that we can all support their work and be inspired to welcome the strangers we encounter in our lives, no matter where they are.
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken.