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The Church Can Make a Difference in the Life of Migrants

[caption id="attachment_3035" align="alignright" width="300"] Blog by Associate Colette Parker, OPA - Co-Director[/caption] A few days ago, Pope Francis tweeted “Migrants are our brothers and sisters in search of a better life, far away from poverty, hunger, and war.” His words spoke to my heart and brought back memories from 15 years ago, when one of my journalist colleagues and I spent months with migrant workers and their families to gather information for a series of stories that chronicled their lives. I recalled the slum-like living conditions of many of the migrants –apartments that felt more like warehouses than homes; houses with exposed live electrical wires and overcrowded no-pest strips dangling from water-stained ceilings; roach-infested rental properties in desperate need of repairs. My retrospection elicited the same emotions that I experienced all those years ago – heartbreak and repulsion. I still cannot comprehend what motivates people to mistreat, exploit, abuse, and oppress others, especially those who are vulnerable, like the migrants. If those landlords could have seen those migrants as their brothers and sisters, they would treat them with dignity. Pope Francis is right. All of the migrant workers with whom we spent time were in search of a better life. Like the European immigrants who came to America, the migrant workers who shared their stories came seeking greater economic opportunities. Many had left their homeland to escape crushing poverty and, in some cases, repressive political regimes. They, too, were drawn to the United States by the promise of the American dream. They had spent their last to come to this country for a chance at jobs that most Americans turn down. Migrant after migrant shared how their primarily goal was to work for money that could be sent back home to pay for things like food, shoes, housing, and education for the loved ones they had left behind. Many expressed hope to be able to return to their families someday. One man shared that the only source of water in his small rural village was a single pipe and that the houses had dirt floors and tin roofs. He said he could work all day and make nothing at home. I am inspired by the fact that the Catholic Church is committed to the just treatment of migrants, immigrants and refugees and that church leaders have called for increased pastoral outreach among the migrants. I am blessed to have seen the church in action: The couple who couldn’t speak Spanish yet befriended a Spanish-speaking migrant couple and became godparents to their three children. The volunteers who gathered in church basements and fellowship halls to teach English classes to migrant workers and their children. The woman who accompanied an injured migrant worker to the emergency room to translate for him and hospital staff. The advocate who established a nonprofit agency to meet the needs of migrants. The attorney who helped migrant workers resolve legal issues. The priest who provided pastoral support and guidance to the migrants. Like the priest, the attorney, the advocate, the woman, the volunteers, and the couple, we (who are the church) have the power to change the way our migrant brothers and sisters are treated.

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