Solidarity and the Shipwreck: Transformative Education in Action

Bill Scholl, Social Justice Consultant for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas

The prophet Nathan knew the power of a well-told story to transform.

After King David sinned against God and neighbor by sending a man to die in battle so that David could marry the man’s wife, Nathan realized that David needed to be told of his error in a way he could hear.  Nathan wisely petitioned the king, who loved justice, with the case of a poor man who was robbed of his only beloved lamb by a rich man with many livestock. Outraged, the king declared this rich man must die and make four-fold restitution. Nathan teaches towards transformation with the words, “you are that man” (2 Sam. 12:7). Placing ourselves in the story has the power to transform, and this is why Jesus so often taught through parable.

I have personally witnessed this power of story to transform from an exercise I developed to teach about immigration called “Solidarity and the Shipwreck.”  Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to an auditorium of Benedictine college students on the subject of immigration reform to kick off their Social Justice week. We did an abridged form of the exercise.  I invited ten students to come up and stand close together.  I then encircled the ground around their feet with a rope so everyone knew there was room for all inside. Next, I asked seven students to step outside the circle and set this scenario: the group within the circle become passengers on a luxury cruise near the Antarctic that comes upon a massive shipwreck.  The group outside the circle become drowning sailors trying to prevent their deaths by getting onboard.  Because the passengers have paid a lot of money for the trip, the captain lets them decide whether to save them.

I then asked the passengers on the imaginary ship what they decided. The faculty of this Catholic college will be glad to know that these students unanimously agreed to let all the drowning sailors on board, to much applause from the student body!

So, like Nathan, let me explain: as Americans, we are the ship; the drowning sailors are those who flee poverty, violence, or environmental devastation in their home countries seeking opportunities elsewhere; and it is this story that can open our hearts to the Church’s teaching on immigration.

The Catholic Church teaches that since all human beings are created in the image of God everyone has a right to pursue those things required for basic human decency (food, clothing, shelter, etc.) within their own country.  However, when someone cannot acquire those things needed for human decency in his or her home country, be it for reasons of a depressed economy or well-founded fear of persecution, then that person has a right to migrate. The Catholic Church upholds the rights of sovereign nations to secure their borders but insists that this right is not absolute.

Nations, particularly wealthy nations, have a moral obligation to accommodate immigrants in dire circumstances in ways that still maintain the common good of their own country; preservation of wealth alone is not sufficient cause to keep people out. Just as the captain of a ship coming upon the wreckage of a vessel much larger than his would have an obligation to take on as many survivors as he could, but not so many that his own ship would sink, so also should nations look upon preserving the rights of immigrants. Consequently, the bishops of the United States encourage all Catholics, all people of good will, and particularly U.S. officials to look at the immigration issue in humanitarian terms.

I have presented this scenario to many groups and it never fails to transform the discussion from a partisan perspective to a solidarity lens that looks to how we can pragmatically love our neighbor.  If you’d like to learn more or arrange such a dialogue go to www.archkck.org/socialjustice. Learn more about the Church’s teaching on immigration, and other ways to respond, at www.justiceforimmigrants.org.

Bill Scholl is the Social Justice Consultant for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas

 

Migrants, Refugees, and an Invitation to Metanoia

Jesus Christ wants to change your life. Before you change your life, you have to change your mind.

A key concept for the life of Christian discipleship is metanoia.  Derived from the Greek word meta, for “beyond” and nous, for “thinking” or “mind,” metanoia means thinking beyond. Thus, the term metanoia was coined by early Christians as a way to describe how encounters with Christ necessitate thinking beyond what was previously thought. This term also highlights how the Holy Spirit urges a life of conversion.

If we are to follow and worship the crucified God-Man we must be open to heart and mind paradigm-shifts. The call to metanoia is made by our Lord in his Beatitudes.  For example: poverty is a blessing, meekness is strength, and persecution for righteousness is glory.

Bottom Line:  You can’t be a disciple of Jesus unless you are prepared and open to changing how you think about things. Most often, this thinking will be opposed to the thinking of the world.

Recently, the Office for Social Justice in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas was blessed to work with a great team of people to help Archbishop Naumann organize and celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees with a special Mass and multicultural festival.  Catholics from the various immigrant and ethnic communities of the archdiocese came together in a liturgy that reflected the multi-national, universal identity of the Roman Catholic Church by utilizing different languages and musical styles. The Mass was followed by sharing a potluck meal and fellowship as families who had immigrated from Asia, Europe, Central and South America shared their food and culture with one another. People who weren’t accustomed to worshipping with each other came together to pray for all the migrants of the world.

It was a time for metanoia, to rethink how our Catholicity calls us to recognize that ultimately we are called to share a common home in Heaven. Pope Francis reminded us, in his message for that day,  “Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age (Matthew 25:35-43).”  Each person is precious; persons are more important than things, and our institutions must be measured by how well they support the life and dignity of human beings, particularly when they are vulnerable, as in the case of child migrants.

As our government wrestles with its immigration and refugee policies, especially on the issue of DACA, let us as Christians be open to a metanoia on immigration that sees people not as enemies at the gate that we ardently resist, but persons of inherent worth that we desire to prudently welcome.

Bill Scholl is the Social Justice Consultant for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and Diocesan Director for their local Justice for Immigrants Campaign.

Going Deeper
Visit USCCB’s JusticeforImmigrants.org for materials and resources to encourage encounter, learning and action for and with immigrants and refugees.