Welcoming the Stranger
If a stranger lives with you in your land, do not molest him. You must count him as one of your own countrymen and love him as yourself—for you were once strangers yourselves in Egypt. I am Yahweh your God. ( Lev 19: 32-34)
No matter if our families came from Europe, Asia, Mexico, Africa or were here before the “discovery” of the Americas. No matter who or where we are in the world, we are all “in the same boat;” we share a common humanity, we are all children of God. The values articulated in Catholic social teaching apply to each and every one of us. Many schools in the United States will celebrate Columbus Day in October. Some schools in the United States choose other ways to commemorate the events of 1492 such as Indigenous Peoples Day in an attempt to flesh out the story of the “discovery” of the Americas by including the perspective of those already living in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus. Most of history is told from the perspective of “privileged” people. What does this mean? How do we counter that trend? What will your students study and celebrate this October and why? The commemoration of Columbus’ voyage and the designation of October as Family History Month open more than one doorway for entering the current immigration debate in our country.
An Exploration of our Hearts
The Way of Jesus in the Gospels maps the interior orientation of our hearts. We are told to love our neighbor as ourselves, to care for the poor and to feed the hungry. Are we meant to do these things only in our own parishes or local communities? Are there global responsibilities?
Before beginning the following activity, review the values of Catholic social teaching with your students available at http://www.paxjoliet.org/justeach/justeach2.html . Also check out http://www.usccb.org/mrs/pcmr/briefs/08quotes.shtml for an overview of scriptural references, Vatican documents and Bishops’ statements regarding migration and refugee issues. The website of the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform offers a good discussion of Catholic social teaching and the rights of immigrants, migrants and refugees at http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org/ParishKit/CatholicSocTeaching.pdf
Have your students brainstorm the meaning of the word “explore.” What does it mean to be an “explorer” in this day and age? Does exploring necessarily involve physical territory or could it also pertain to the interior depths of the human heart? To our ideals? To our faith perspective? The late John Paul II asked nations of the world to open their hearts to the circumstances leading to a person’s or family’s decision to leave their native land. Are we being asked to stretch our definitions of our human family beyond national borders? Are we redefining neighbor in our everyday lives? The values of Catholic social teaching such as human dignity, global solidarity and a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable open new paths for contemporary explorers of Christian living. How can we explore the realm of our common humanity with all people of the world? Is humanity contained within national borders or does it cross borders?
Current debate on immigration reform involves issues such as building walls at our borders and refusing humanitarian aid even to those facing death as a result of their grueling journey to gain entry to our country. While recognizing the rights of sovereign nations in setting borders, Catholic social teaching never forgets the dignity of the human person. Could it be we’ve already built walls within our own hearts preventing us from recognizing Christ in one another? Preventing us from embracing our neighbor in Christian love? Do these walls detract from the fullness of our own human dignity as well as prevent us from seeing and embracing our neighbors? Is there a passageway to be discovered through these walls or a way to dismantle them?
See if your students can define terms such as: refugee, immigrant, alien resident, internally displaced person and neighbor. ( For help in finding definitions see: the USCCB website info under “Resources.” )
Using the following discussion cues, ask your students to consider the eternal words of Jesus and our values of Catholic social teaching as our “map” for finding our way in this exploration or discussion of the depths of our hearts. Encourage your students to expand on the discussion by also bringing in the values of the common good, rights and responsibilities, the dignity of work and workers’ rights, caring for God’s creation, and the call to family, community and participation. Explain that the values of Catholic social teaching are interwoven in any discussion of an issue.
Each of us is made in the image of God.
-When you hear the word “immigrant” whom do you see?
Are you forming stereotypes and seeing only one or a few particular ethnic groups in your mind? Do they look like you? Or are you seeing immigrant people as “other” than you? ----How might you find the image of God in another person? How might you let someone else see the spark of Christ in you? What might block such vision?
-Why do people come to our country? Why did your family come to this country? Or was your family already here?
-Do we tend to use illegal immigrants as scapegoats for our own internal problems? Do we blame the “other” for our shortcomings?
-Do immigrant and refugee people bring their own unique gifts when entering a new country?
-Who is my “neighbor?” In a world connected with high speed computer technology, telephones, airlines and instant replay of world events on televisions, has our understanding of “neighbor” broadened or have we built a fortress and drawn a border in our hearts where we exclude/include other people? Should the term “neighbor” include people from other countries?
What makes some people reach out and others turn inward when encountering someone different?
-What role does the global community play in making the world a safe place for all?
How can the international community respect individual governments and still intervene in local crises? Do we have an obligation to help stabilize the world? What are the risks? Should nations step in and help other nations resolve issues of hunger, war, poverty, lack of education, torture? Could these be done without military intervention or instead of military intervention?
-Where are Catholic missionaries at work in the world today? What do these missionaries do to show solidarity, their respect for human dignity, and the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable?
Preferential Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
-Is part of the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable opening our borders, our hearts, to their plight? Or is it just meant for those already living in our country?
-How do we greet newly arrived immigrant people? Do we accept, welcome, and invite them into our homes, our churches, our businesses and schools?
-How easy is it for an immigrant person to find a job that will sustain the family? -Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles stated that rather than forbid humanitarian services to illegal immigrants, the priests of his diocese should continue to offer aid even if it meant going to jail. Is this a heroic statement? What other values of Catholic social teaching is he relying on?
Have students share stories of their ancestors’ arrival in the United States or their ancestors’ lives before the coming of European settlers. Students could even consider an oral history of the parish. A model for this project can be found at http://learning.loc.gov/learn/lessons/97/oh1/ammem.html The site is based on an oral history project for middle schoolers in Central Illinois but can easily be adapted for high school students. After students complete their oral histories have them share them in small groups or as a class. What common themes run through the stories? What motivated people to pack up and move to a new country or new region? Are the stories more similar than students expected?
Create a “Catholic Social Teaching Values Tree” with your students. Choose a format, such as a tree or a chart, and have them trace the values of CST in their family. We tend to look at family photos searching for whom we might resemble, but what about our interior lives, our hearts? Who modeled the value of recognizing human dignity in all people for your students? Go through the values and see how many you can see reflected in family members either through personal experience or through stories handed down. They could even include family friends or favorite saints (include the saints’ countries of origin) as well in their searching for their roots in living out their faith. An alternative would be to collect family stories that illustrate each value of CST. See if they can find scripture stories that illustrate the family stories or their various mentors’ stories as well. This could be done in small groups or individually.
What do we celebrate on Columbus Day? Many would say we celebrate “hope,” an essential element in Catholic social teaching. How could we use Columbus Day as a way to celebrate the diversity in our nation, as a way to appreciate all who have traveled far to come here and call this land home? How can we keep hope alive in our own hearts in the midst of political tensions and extend a sense of hope to today’s immigrants? How can we open our hearts to both give of ourselves and to receive the gifts of others in our lives?
Read the story of St. Francis of Assisi’s encounter with the leper. How does St. Francis’ embrace of the leper turn what was bitter to him into sweetness. Have your students think of an encounter where they either felt like St. Francis unable to “embrace” the other person or where they felt like the leper sitting on the margins of life, unembraced, unwelcomed. It could be a lunchroom encounter, the first day of school, a trip to a new area or country, etc. What happened? Did the experience end well? Did they encounter any walls in their own hearts? How do such experiences shape our future encounters with people in our lives? Does our culture shape our relationships, do our experiences program us to act similarly in the future? Does our culture shape our approach to relationships, do our experiences program us to act similarly in the future? Can we “reprogram” ourselves if necessary? Have them then switch roles and imagine the encounter from the other person’s perspective. Does looking at it from the other person’s point of view give new insights?
Have your students develop a prayer around one of the social justice issues you chose for reflection and discussion.
Calendar for October (adapted from the Center for Concerns calendar www.coc.org)
Oct 1 Family History Month begins
International Day of Older Persons
St. Therese of Lisieux
Oct 2 Gandhi’s birthday (Consider viewing the film Gandhi with older students)
World Communion Day
Yom Kippur (Jewish Day of Atonement)
Oct 4 St. Francis of Assisi
Oct 5 World Teachers’ Day
Oct 9 Columbus Day Observed
Oct 15 St Teresa of Avila
Oct 16 World Food Day
Oct 17 International Day for Eradication of Poverty
Oct 20 National Weekend of Faith and Action on Death Penalty begins
Oct 21 Diwali (Hindu Festival of Lights)
International Day of Peace
Oct 24 United Nations Day
Oct 24 Disarmament Week Begins
Eid al Fitr (Islamic Festival of Breaking of the Fast)
http://www.nccbuscc.org/mrs/youth.shtml United States Conference of Catholic Bishops site offers many interesting and fairly easy to put together activities. Under “For Youth”, you will find definitions for immigrant, migrant, and refugee.
http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/laborday2006.htmA Labor Day Reflection on Immigration and Work USSCB
http://www.usccb.org/mrs/stranger.shtmlStrangers No Longer 2003 pastoral letter
http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org/ website of the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform
http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org/myths.html from the above site, dispels common myths regarding immigrant people
http://www.richmonddiocese.org/cst/. Diocese of Richmond Office of Peace and Justice website. Has a variety of resources arranged by topic to help integrate Catholic social teaching into studies and prayer.
http://www.immigrantrights.net/ a website started by Wisconsin high school students detailing their own work in advocating immigration reform and presenting the issue from the point of view of students in the group
http://score.rims.k12.ca.us/ schools of California Online Resources for Education
http://www.afsc.org/takingroot/video.html Echando Raices (Taking Root) American Friends Service Committee film raising issues stemming from migration
http://bostonteachnet.org/bwm/stavrianidis/sigproj.htm Boston teacher presents various classroom activities regarding women immigrants
http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/help?id=4072c8174 United Nations Commission on Refugees and European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office
http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/newamericans/foreducators_lesson_plan_03.html PBS website offers timeline of immigration policy among other information. Several of the policy changes listed in the timeline could easily spark a discussion in middle school and high school groups using the values of Catholic social teaching as a tool to critique.
http://www.cvt.org/main.php/ClassroomCurriculumandActivities the Center for Victims of Torture Explains that torture may be the reason for some people fleeing their native lands.
http://www.cal.org/co/ Cultural Orientation Resource Center, students can find current statistics on the number of refugees (listed by country of origin) coming into the United States
www.justicetalking.org for current debate on various issues including immigration
www.coc.org Center of Concerns, see education for justice pages ( requires membership)
My prayer is that this year offer many opportunities for exploring Catholic social teaching with your students and for finding your own unique and creative ways to help students articulate their faith. As we enter the harvest season, may God grant each of you an abundance of grace, humor, patience, courage, hope and knowledge to accompany your students on an awesome faith journey this year. Blessings, Colette Wisnewski