Written on: March 21, 2022
The following was written for “From a Faith Perspective” which is a feature of the Bucks County Courier Times. March 20, 2022. Sister Eileen White, GNSH is a frequent contributor. Used with permission.
It is difficult to think about anything besides Ukraine. Suddenly, we know exactly where Ukraine and Russia are in relation to Belarus, Poland, Romania, and even Moldova. We have pictures engraved in our hearts of mothers and children bidding goodbye to their husbands and fathers and uncles and sons. Worse are the pictures of buildings on fire and exploding and of destroyed apartment buildings, people running, fleeing, resisting, fighting, and also dying.
We pray. “Let there be peace. Make the killing stop. Let the people of Ukraine live free.” We beg God. We talk to the images on our TV and computer screens. Ukraine’s president tells us Ukraine is not far, that their fight is our fight. We cry with the weight of their struggle and the feeling of helplessness or frustration that we are not doing more, that we might be able to do much more.
A Facebook message from someone I do not know pitted the Ukraine refugees against the “invasion” at our southern border and one helper organization for support of Ukraine against Catholic Charities. Having worked at the southern border, having received literally hundreds of men, women, and children delivered to us by Border Patrol so that we could provide an overnight refuge, some food and clothing and support, I was upset. Attacking Catholic Charities?! If 5000 from Ukraine come seeking support and a new homeland, will we speak of “invasion?” Many of us, myself included, have already forgotten about the millions of refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants of war, violence, climate change, poverty – from Afghanistan, Syria, Haiti, Venezuela, Yemen, and so many other countries. They are all human persons. Are some worthy and others not?
The Hebrew scriptures, which Christians call the Old Testament, hear God saying this:
You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:34)
And in the New Testament books of the Bible, we read:
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. (Matthew 25: 35)
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2)
We find it in our hearts to support in every way possible the Ukrainians who are struggling to survive against violence coming from an outside aggressor. Their plight is made visible to us daily, as is their courage, their tenacity, and their love of their country.
However, our political divide makes it much more difficult to identify with others who are also leaving a home they love, separating from loved ones, traveling miles to places they hope will offer welcome. We don’t see their faces nor witness their goodbyes, their tears, their fear, their desperation. Instead we imagine them – based on words that are chosen to characterize them as evil, as dangerous, as criminal elements, as “invaders.”
And, the ones we have forgotten – we don’t see them in their makeshift refugee camps, trying to survive, to feed their young, to fight off despair. But they are also humanity. They are also brothers and sisters looking for safety, for security, for life for their children.
Like the people of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, most of us have ancestors who came to our country long ago as “the stranger.”
Can we love the new “strangers” even if they don’t look like us?
Even if we don’t know their story?
Even if the story some have spread about them is scary and also untrue?
Can we support them?
Can we give them a chance?