This is an article I wrote last month about my friend Br. Joseph Kotula OFM and his work on the southern border of the United States with immigrants and displaced people. It’s a story that isn’t told often enough in the the press.
There is not a February 8th that goes by that I don’t remember graduating from the US Navy Hospital Corps School in Great Lakes. With that on my mind earlier today I drove to St. Bonaventure University with a load of groceries in the rear of my car. I was joining a group of Franciscans and other members of the St. Bonaventure University community to assemble food packages to be sent to the Arizona-Mexico border.
On my way to the campus my car started making some scary noises and lights appeared on the console to let me know that something was seriously wrong. I slowed down and drove along the shoulder of the road and arrived at the campus of St. Bonaventure and unloaded my groceries. Br. Joe Kotula, OFM drove me to a local repair shop where mechanics quickly determined that my car needed a new wheel bearing. Joe drove us back to the campus and when we arrived we were joined by dozens of volunteers who took hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars worth of energy bars, meat sticks, and other snacks and placed them in large plastic bags along with a greeting in Spanish and English. Each note was signed by a volunteer who packed the bags. In all three-hundred-fifty-two plastic bags were filled with snacks and other goodies. They filled 15 shipping boxes and were shipped to Elfrida, AZ. There these care packages will be taken to the US – Mexican border and given to migrants who need some love and care.
This wonderful venture was inspired by Br. Joe who recently returned from three weeks that he spent with the Franciscan Intentional Community in Elfrida who make regular trips to the border to help migrants and recent immigrants on both sides of the border. Before we started packing and after we were through Br. Joe shared his personal journey to the border along with great photographs of the people he met, the conditions he observed and the thirty foot high border wall which is being constructed along our southern border to keep immigrants out. In some places the border wall is topped with concertina wire designed to seriously injure anyone who would attempt to scale and climb over the wall. Joe’s voice was choked with emotion as he described the experiences he had on both sides of the border and of the horrific plight that these migrants face and the reasons that they are gathering at our border.
As I helped pack bags and worked in assembly line fashion with the dozens of volunteers my eyes filled with tears and I knew that we were truly doing God’s work. Immigration is a serious problem. That’s for sure but there must be a more humane way to deal with it. One of the stories that Br. Joe shared was of an migrant boy who threw stones over the wall and how one of the border guards killed the boy with his weapon. The guard shot through the wall into Mexico and after killing the boy refilled his weapon and shot the dead person some more. What motivates a person to do that? The boy was wrong. He should not have thrown stones over the wall, but does it justify murder in cold blood?
For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever. — Jeremiah 7:5-7
I hope that our efforts with BonaResponds today helped to atone for the way we are currently treating the aliens in our midst.
Along this waterway my great-grandparents came in the 1880’s. They couldn’t speak English too well and they came in search of a better life. They came from Anglesey Island in North Wales. My Grandmother was their youngest. She was born after they settled at Henpeck near present day Sandusky, New York. Every time I see the Erie Canal I think of them and how uncertain their lives were. Grandpa became a US citizen in 1902, four years after my Grandma was born. Great-grandma never did become a citizen. In the pre-social insurance days there was no need. Like all immigrants they were discriminated against. That legacy invites me to welcome others who come here.
“You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” – Exodus 22:21
I just got a video link sent to me and it’s typical xenophobia disguised to look like patriotism. When I reminded this individual that our grandparents had come from Wales and couldn’t speak English and that we are reminded in Exodus 23:9, “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” Upon receiving my note my friend reminded me that although I was right she loved the “Good Ole USA.” Is it inconsistent to love your neighbor and not oppress the resident alien and still be a good American citizen. I don’t think so. What do you think?
Most of us Americans were aliens at some point in our past. Even Native Americans immigrated here over the Bering land bridge thousands of years ago.
I took a fairly long day trip today after Mass at Mt. Irenaeus and eventually I made my way to the edge of the Erie Canal near Bushnell’s Basin just east of the Village of Pittsford, New York. It was a beautiful day as temperatures reached the high sixties and many folks were either jogging, cycling or walking along the towpath on the opposite side of the canal from where I took this picture.
I’ve had a fascination with the Erie Canal that goes back to my childhood when I first began to read about it. My great-grandparents, Welsh immigrants to this country made their way to Upstate New York along this waterway. In fact, Richard and Catherines Owens might well have looked upon the spot where I stood today as they made their way from Castle Garden in New York City where they first entered the United States. My grandmother was their youngest child and she along with five of her seven siblings were born in the United States. Two of Grandma’s eldest sisters were born in Wales and made their way along this water route with their parents to Western New York. That was nearly one-hundred and twenty years ago.