Social Justice: We have a responsibility to welcome, serve with mercy

By DeKarlos Blackmon
Columnist

In March, I was privileged to participate in the Ecumenical Prayer Vigil for the Safety of Citizens, Residents, Refugees, Exiles and Immigrants at Santa Teresa Parish in Bryan. The prayer vigil sought to provide pastoral care for those who have been suffering. It also brought the community together, as a sign of unity and resolve, to promote just and peaceful safety and security for all citizens, residents, refugees, exiles and immigrants. Father Pedro Garcia-Ramirez, the pastor of Santa Teresa, invited ecumenical leaders from churches across Bryan, College Station, Hearne and Austin to stand together and exemplify what it means to be “salt and light.” Referencing Jesus’ use of that image (Mt 5:13-16), Father Garcia-Ramirez reminded us of our responsibility to improve the quality of human existence in this contemporary age, and to become beacons of light and hope in a world that seems dreary through the eyes of some. 
In the midst of the anxiety and uncertainty that brought us together, I was blessed to encounter a people who possess a profound and steadfast faith in God. On that rainy evening in Bryan, I gathered with people of faith whose very testimony — in the midst of struggle and sorrow — is of grace and witness to a loving and benevolent God of mercy. In spite of the many things that may happen in life, God is always integral to their lived experiences, their trials, tribulations, triumphs and joys. 
Father Garcia-Ramirez’ initiative reminded me of the words of St. John Paul II in his 1998 Message for Migration Day: “‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Mt 25:35) retains its power in all circumstances and challenges the conscience of those who intend to follow in [Christ’s] footsteps. For the believer, accepting others is not only philanthropy or a natural concern for his fellow man. It is far more, because in every human being he knows he is meeting Christ, who expects to be loved and served in our brothers and sisters, especially in the poorest and neediest.” 
The gathering at Santa Teresa epitomized just how many people of all races, nationalities, languages, cultures and socioeconomic statuses live in the Diocese of Austin. Among us are citizens, residents, immigrants, exiles and refugees who share a common bond: we are the people of God. When we seriously consider the plight of our ancestors just over a century ago, we face the reality that we are not too far removed from the experiences of migrants and people of low socioeconomic status today. When we think about the explosive issue of immigration reform, we are harkened to be ever mindful of the implications of discrimination toward anyone, particularly migrants, refugees, and those on the peripheries of society.
We are all made in the image and likeness of God. Each of us possesses an inherent value; each of us is important, we count, and we matter. No matter how young, how old, the color of our skin, our cultural background, or our socioeconomic status, there is sacred dignity in each one of us. When any of us, especially those who have endured discrimination or suffering at the hands of another, reflect on how it feels to be spurned and rejected, we see the importance of recognizing the dignity of every human person. Thus, we must be mindful of how we treat each other.
Our society needs a deeper understanding of each other, an authentic encounter that heals the wounds of violence, hatred, discrimination and all things that damage our inherent dignity. As Christians, we are called to be missionary disciples who encounter the marginalized, disregarded and ostracized. This authentic encounter with one another serves as a vehicle of grace that brings us to the understanding that Jesus came from all humankind for all humankind — regardless of one’s station in life, race or cultural background.
Catholics cannot escape the undeniable reality of the church’s call to serve, showing mercy and love, as we are all in need of the mercy of the Lord. Each of our parishes, wherever it is located, reflects the people who live around it. The stranger is among us: they live in our midst, and they must always be welcome where we, the faithful, are located. 
May we freely accept the responsibilities we share to encounter each other, to meet each other where we are, exercising a profound love and respect for the dignity of each human person.