OCTOBER 2020 RECOLLECTION: To be an Alien. The Migrants

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Translated by Fray Dunstan Hubert Decena, OAR

Ex. 23:6-9.

No other epoch of history has been a witness to the migratory movements than the present. Every day there are thousands of humans on the go taking diverse roads, generally dangerous and uncertain, in search for a better future, for a new life. It is a phenomenon that accompanies not only the globalization of the contemporary world, but also the economic politics where the world has become a big global village that has zones of wellbeing and great belts of misery and exploitation. In face of this reality, we are being asked to give a response, because in the end we are all migrants, since our fatherland is heaven, and while we live on this earth we are simply pilgrims and migrants towards the heavenly Jerusalem.

Enter into yourself.

On this day of community recollection, let us dispose our hearts. In a moment of silence, let us make the exercise of entering the heart, asking God for help and enlightenment. Only in silence and in recollection can we welcome God and his Word. Once we have gathered our faculties in prayerful silence, let us invoke the Holy Spirit.

Give us, Lord, your Spirit and carry us, because when you are our firmness, then it is truly firmness; but if it is ours, then it is weakness. Our good lives always with you, and so when we depart from your Spirit we pervert ourselves. Turn us to yourself now, that we may not depart, because in you lives without defect our good, which is you, and we will not fear to find another place to fly to, because from there we have come, and though we be absent from it, our house is not demolished, your eternity (conf. 4,31). This we ask of you who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.

Your voice is my joy.

The Word of God is the light of our path because it uncovers for us the will of God. Let us listen with the ears of the heart the following words, allowing ourselves to be enlightened by them.

 You shall not deny one of your needy fellow men his rights in his lawsuit. You shall keep away from anything dishonest. The innocent and the just you shall not put to death, nor shall you acquit the guilty. Never take a bribe, for a bribe blinds even the most clear-sighted and twists the words even of the just. You shall not oppress the alien; you know well how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.

The firmament of the Scriptures.

Biblical keys.

Side by side with the theme of possession of the earth is the theme of migration. These two realities co-existed in the history of the Hebrew people. Great figures like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or Moses lived on horseback between the Promised Land and other lands that were not their own. The Old Testament will narrate to us two significant moments in which Israel will be an alien: the slavery in Egypt (Genesis and Exodus) and the coming out; and similarly, the deportation to Babylon and the exile (Kings, Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.). In both moments, the people will create a consciousness about migration that will influence its daily life, and its relations with other nations, that will be reflected in the Sacred Texts.

Our text for reflection is in the Book of Exodus, i.e., in the Pentateuch, the sacred Book of the Law, the Torah, the most venerated. Within Exodus, it is found in the second part of the book, the so called Code of the Covenant (Ex. 20:22 – 24:33). This code contains secondary laws, not in the same level as the Decalogue (Ex. 20:1 -21), but they help in its concrete application. The Code of the Covenant corresponded to an epoch in which the nation was being formed and needed to have norms of action for everyday life, because as yet there was no structured society with kings or priestly families, but that the authority, and justice and worship fell on all the citizens. In this sense, the Code of the Covenant served to live everyday life according to what God had revealed through the Commandments.

The Code of the Covenant contained miscellaneous themes: slavery, death penalty, blows and wounds, damage of the neighbor’s property, witchcraft and magic, defense of the weak and some religious feasts. The Code of the Covenant responded to the necessity of translating the laws of the Decalogue into norms of community living everyday among the inhabitants of that land, who were not only the Hebrews; among them were resident aliens and slaves, and it was basic to have norms that regulated these relationships.

Migration is seen in the Code of the Covenant as a situation of weakness. The aliens are viewed in the same category as the enemies and the poor (cf. Ex. 23:1-9). Migration is not only a vague and distant memory, rather, Israel continually experiences it. In the books of Joshua and The Judges the process of the conquest and the establishment in the land is narrated, but it was not easy nor in complete form. Israel had to co-exist with other nations, who like itself had to migrate and seek in other territories a form of survival.

The memory of Egypt: Perhaps the most significant of this phrase is the memory of the stay in Egypt. The relationship with Egypt has been complicated: Israel sought in Egypt a protector and a support against other nations, but in Egypt she suffered slavery, suppression, and humiliation. On the other hand, Egypt will be the place where Israel could take refuge after the destruction of Jerusalem and, even though this was always an object of threats and oracles of the prophets, Egypt was a place where the children of Israel found refuge in order to survive and form a nation (cf. Gn. 46:25 – 47:12; Ex. 1:1-7).

For the Deuteronomist, the memory of the sojourn in Egypt becomes an imperative on the relations of the people, not only with aliens, but also with their own brothers: because you had been a slave in Egypt (Dt. 5:15). The experience of having been an alien demands a charitable and positive attitude towards someone who comes seeking a better life in our land and who flees from violence, hunger or injustice and who sees among us an opportunity to have a better life.

Augustinian keys.

The epoch in which St. Augustine lived has great similarities with our own. The 4th and 5th centuries were marked by great migrations of barbaric peoples. Nevertheless, the event that made St. Augustine take full consciousness of the historical moment that he was living and the importance that migration had, was the plundering of the City of Rome brought about by the Goth troops of Alaric on August 410 A.D. This event made the African coasts to be filled with immigrants,  persons fleeing from Rome and other cities of the empire. Many of these immigrants had relatives or friends in the diverse cities of North Africa, but many more had no one, nor did they have much resources.

In the year 411-412, St. Augustine preached the Sermon 25, where he made reference to those who slept under the porticoes and who suffered hunger and cold, emphasizing that it was necessary not to forget the pilgrims, i.e., the migrants, the aliens, those who were not roman citizens, and even though they were, but were not citizens of Hipona:

Look, by the grace of God, we are in winter. Think of the poor, of how to clothe the naked Christ (…) Each one of you hope to receive Christ seated in heaven; see him lying on a portal; see him hungry and cold; see him poor, a migrant (peregrinum). Do what you are accustomed to do, do what you are not accustomed to do. Knowledge is great, let the good works be greater. You praise the seed, show forth the harvest (s. 25,8).

On the other hand, it was around these years (410-411) that St. Augustine began to write The City of God, in which it was not only necessary to answer the pagans, who were blaming the Christians for being responsible for the plunder of Rome, and in general for the decadence of the Roman Empire, but above all, to reflect upon the meaning of history and its reincarnations, illuminating all the events from the salvific designs and providence of God, who directs everything towards its total fulfillment in eternity. Within this speculation, and most possibly accentuated by the phenomenon that there were many “peregrinus” filling the streets and the plazas of Hipona, St. Augustine reminds all Christians of all times, that it is necessary not to forget who are “peregrinus,” because we are all “peregrinus,” since we are not citizens of this earth, but that our citizenship is in heaven, in the City of God. That is why, over and beyond legal questions of Roman citizenship, St. Augustine points out that the essential spiritual migratory condition of every believer is that of being “peregrinus” ( pilgrim), i.e., a migrant, being an alien, because in this earth the Christian has no permanent dwelling, nor does he belong to this world, because he is a citizen of heaven.

Because in heaven there is an eternal Jerusalem, where the angels are our fellow citizens. Now on earth we travel far from these fellow citizens. In our pilgrimage we yearn, in the city we shall rejoice. Nevertheless, in this pilgrimage we also meet companions who already contemplate this city and who invite us to run towards it (en. Ps 121:2).

The Christian must fraternize with all, peregrinus of this earth with the migrant, pilgrim in a specific land or country, and come to their aid, living in it the presence of Christ, as he indicates in en. Ps.40, where St. Augustine cites the text of Mt. 25:35 (“I was hungry and you gave me to eat; thirsty and you gave me to drink, a stranger and you took me in”), changing the Latin word hospes (stranger), which is proper of the text used by St. Augustine in this periscope of Matthew, for the word peregrinus.

Blessed is he who understands the needy and the poor. Look also at the poor, the needy, the hungry, the thirsty, the exiles, the naked, the sick, the prisoners; understand also this poor, because if you understand him, you also understand him who said: I was hungry, thirsty, I was naked, I was a prisoner (Mt. 25:35-36). Thus, on an evil day, the Lord will save you (en. Ps. 40,2).

Therefore, St. Augustine, confronting the phenomenon and the drama of actual migration would remind us of two fundamental things. Christ is present in someone who suffers some want for his condition of peregrinus, of being an alien, for finding himself in a country of which he is not a citizen. And if Christ is present in these persons, it is necessary to help them and seek to remedy their needs. On the other hand, St. Augustine binds all believers with the migrant de facto because we are all spiritual migrants who journey towards the City of God, which is our homeland, and while we live in this earth, we are not citizens of this world, rather we are only migrants and peregrinus.

The cry of the poor.

Migration is a reality in our society that increases every day mainly pushed by the sufferings of many persons who do not have the conditions to live with dignity. There are migrants by choice, and others by forced displacement. Those who freely migrate do it for two motives: because they seek better conditions of life, and because they seek better jobs. Those displaced forcibly include three groups: those who migrate from one country to another, those who move within their country to a more secure zone, and those who seek asylum in another country. Some causes by which these three groups of migrants are obliged to be displaced are wars, persecution for race or religion, natural catastrophes, and the violation of human rights. Many of these migrants fear for their lives and they have no other choice but to leave their homes.

The statistical data of the UNO through its organism for migratory matters, i.e., the High Commission of the UN for Refugees (ACNUR) at the end of 2019 are as follows: there are 280 million migrants, i.e., persons living in a country distinct from the country of birth. We especially focus on who are obliged to flee from their country or region, on 79.5 million forcibly displaced. Of these, 26 million are refugees in another country, 45.7 million are displaced within their own country, 4.2 million seek asylum, and majority awaiting answer from those countries from which they sought asylum, and 3.6 million are displaced in foreign land. The countries with great number of forced migrants are: Syria (6.6 million), Venezuela (3.7 million), Afghanistan 2.7 million), South Sudan (2.2 million) and Myanmar (1.1 million). The countries that received greater number of forced migrants were those bordering them. Among these are Turkey (3.6 million), Colombia (1.8 million), Pakistan (1.4 million) and Uganda (1.4 million). Germany is not a bordering country but received more forced refugees (1.1 million). Other countries in which there are many forcefully displaced are the poorest countries in the world: Republic of Central Africa, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo. The country that has welcomed more refugees in relation to its national population is Lebanon, since one of six inhabitants is a refugee.

There are three days in the year when the migrants are recalled with the intention of putting ourselves in their shoes, of making us sensitive to their plight, to be more in solidarity with them and of promoting preventive acts. During these days we become conscious of the difficult situation the migrants experience. In the civil society June 20 is celebrated as World Day of Refugees and on December 18 the World Day of Migrants. The Catholic Church celebrates the World Day of Migrants on the last Sunday of September.

Pope Francis has proposed a program of solidarity and charity for the migrants focused on four verbs: “welcome, protect, promote and integrate the migrants and refugees.”

Welcome. It seeksto make flexible and to amplify the possibilities so that the migrants and refugees can enter securely and legally the welcoming countries. It proposes concrete measures like humanitarian visas and reunification of families. Adequate and decent accommodation is important.

Protect. These are actions in defense of the migrant persons and refugees in their exit, along their migratory journey and the life in decent conditions in the place of destiny: education, health, job and freedom of movement. He suggests concrete measures: give them certain and truthful information upon leaving their country, consular assistance, the right of always possessing the personal documents  of identity, equitable access to justice, possibility to open bank accounts, guarantee of basic life sustenance, freedom of movement in the welcoming countries, possibility to work and access to the means of communication.

Promote. There must be care for the full personal fulfillment of the migrants and refugees through respect of their culture and religious beliefs and foment their stability through family reunification.

Integrate. There must be mutual enrichment in the meeting of cultures and conditions must be generated to have access to citizenship.

The sufferings of Ahlam, a displaced person. Ahlam, a 29 year old woman,  has suffered for more than five years the conflict is Yemen, her country. In this country one lives the worst human crisis in the world. In 2015 Ahlam had to flee from her native city, Taizz, where she lost he house and her husband. She was displaced to the north of the country, governed by the Ibb. In this region she had no work. Her family was able to survive thanks to the humanitarian help of ACNUR. The prolonged war in the country brought in serious consequences, among them hunger, unsanitary conditions and the loss of half of the sanitary installations. Actually she is afraid of contracting COVID19 because she had seen that several persons in her region had suddenly died. Moreover, the ACNUR was obliged to reduce monetary aid to the displaced in order to augment the resources to save lives (Shadi Abusnei, ACNUR).

Venezuelans in Colombia. It is calculated that 1.8 million persons have migrated from Venezuela to Colombia. Pedro Velazquez has remained in Cucuta, a Colombian city facing Venezuela. He lives in the street and eats with the money he obtains by selling carton and scrap iron. Kelly Lopez is a land lady who looks for a decent job. Osvaldo Briseno is a medical surgeon who works as a waiter in Bogota. Every migrant has a history and a family for whom he struggles. They flee from hunger, from despair, from necessity. They abandoned their homes and families. They seek a better life, a future worthy of themselves and their family.

Your commitment and your response.

We are all peregrinus and migrants in this earth. How do you live this essential spiritual reality?

Christ is present in the poor, the needy and the migrants. Are the migrants merely a statistical number or are they a reality that affects you and moves you to action? What do you do for the poor and the migrants?

In your community how do you welcome the brothers? How do you treat the brothers who come from poor  countries and from which come many migrants?

Final Prayer.

The body travels by places, the soul by affections. If you love the world, you move away from God as you travel; if you love God, you ascend to God. Let us exercise ourselves in the love of God and of neighbor that we may return to love (en. Ps. 119:8).

“Man is a citizen of Jerusalem; but, sold to sin, he became a pilgrim” (en. Ps.125:3). +

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fray Dunstan Huberto Decena, OAR

Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR

Priest/Religious/Bible Professor of the Order of Augustinian Recollects in the Province of St. Ezekiel Moreno.

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