By Ivone Guillen
Pope Francis Lenten message is simple, Other persons are a gift.
He reminds us that “Each life we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect, and love.”– From the Vatican, 18 October 2016
As I reflect on the meaning and simplicity of this statement, I am reminded that our love for our neighbor doesn’t always mirror this truth. This is especially evident in our social and political climate where dissonance and division seem to be the norm in discussions.
As I tune in and listen to the concerns that are raised, I often notice that missing from the conversation is an undeniable truth—every human person possesses a God-given dignity that we are called to value. When we overlook this truth, it becomes easy to treat our immigrant and refugee neighbors as “the other” viewing them not as our brothers and sister but rather people who look or act different than us.
Too often I see policies pertaining to immigrants and refugees rooted not in love and respect for the human person but rather fear and distrust. The Gospel’s call to “…not withhold the wages of the poor and needy laborers, whether one of your own countrymen or a foreigner who reside in your land in one of your towns” becomes an abstract mandate that is overshadowed by discriminatory systems and practices. In our current environment, families are being separated, fear is being stoked into communities and the structures that were designed to protect us have become increasingly unreliable and more deeply divided.
While the challenges we face seem insurmountable, hope is not lost.
Lent offers us an opportunity for conversion. The season gives us the chance to grow whether it’s in mind, spirit or through our actions. This Lenten season, I encourage every Catholic and person of good will to turn to the Lord in prayer and seek guidance to find just and humane solutions to address the unjust and imperfect circumstances we face. May we open our hearts more intentionally to the needs of our immigrant and refugee neighbors, and imitate the love and acceptance of Jesus for neighbor as we find ways to reach across the barriers that separate us.
Ivone Guillen is a Catholic social teaching education coordinator at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.