Pope John Paul II often spoke of a “culture of death.” What I see happening in our nation today is what I would call a “culture of violence.”
Fear is the basis of this culture of violence, and it does not bring out the best in us. When we fear an unwanted pregnancy, a terminal illness, despondency, a convicted murderer or an immigrant, our culture increasingly encourages us to respond in a violent manner in an attempt to rid ourselves of the “problem.”
The culture of violence has been fueled by a hardening of hearts and a coarsening of language in our government and our society. Denying the possibility of asylum to victims of domestic abuse and gang violence magnifies their pain. Separating children from their parents at the border does not correlate with Jesus’ compassion for all those who are suffering in society. Neither policy corresponds to this line from the inscription on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Labelling a fellow human being as “illegal” or viewing their coming to this country as an “infestation” is totally disrespectful of their inherent dignity as a person created in the image and likeness of God. Undocumented immigrants are our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. Is someone who crosses a border seeking a better life for their family, someone who is fleeing poverty and violence, any more of a criminal than someone who breaks the law by exceeding the speed limit?
When I recently visited a meat packing plant in Ottumwa, I learned that the plant would hire 300 people that very day if workers were available. The plant welcomes refugees and immigrants. Citizens don’t want to do that kind of work, so refugees and immigrants would not be taking work away from them. Due to supply and demand, the refugees and immigrants are paid well; they do not drive down wages.
People from other countries need good jobs and safe communities. Iowa needs workers for packing plants, dairy operations, construction companies, nursing homes, etc. Why can’t we figure out a way to bring laborers to our country legally? Why don’t we demand that politicians update our immigration laws? Why don’t we care more about those who are living on the periphery?
Pope Francis uses language that is gentler than “culture of death” or “culture of violence.” He speaks of a “culture of indifference” and encourages encounter and accompaniment. It is easy to demonize those who are different from us on the basis of race, ethnicity or religion. We need to get to know them and their stories. When we do, we discover that they are much like us, with similar fears and concerns, hopes and dreams.
“Share the Journey,” the campaign initiated by Pope Francis, promotes the “culture of encounter” — to treat people on the move with respect, to open hearts and minds, to change perceptions.
Jesus states in Matthew 25 that when we welcome a stranger, we welcome Jesus himself. I pray for a softening of hearts and the use of language that is kind, loving and respectful. I pray for a culture of compassion.