October 6, 2006

Speaker to address immigration from a Catholic perspective

By John Shaughnessy

The weathered face of the man stayed with Holy Cross Father Daniel Groody as he continued to drive through the Arizona desert near the Mexican border.

Just a mile before, the weary-looking man had lifted his empty water jug toward Father Groody as the University of Notre Dame assistant professor neared the spot where the man stood. Father Groody passed the man, but he couldn’t forget him.

The priest also couldn’t forget a moment that had happened several years earlier when he and a friend faced a similar situation.

In that situation, the friend told Father Groody, “You know, I never take chances with people like that.”

When the priest asked him what he meant, his friend said, “That’s Jesus in that person over there, and you can’t fool around when you see someone in need like that. To neglect him is to neglect God.” So his friend stopped to help.

Remembering that moment, Father Groody turned his car around and went back to help the man who needed water.

He learned that the man was an immigrant from Mexico who had walked 50 miles across the blazing desert. He learned the man’s name was Manuel. He learned that Manuel had left behind his wife and children in Mexico to try to make money so his family could eat regularly. He learned that Manuel had been abandoned by his friends in the desert.

He also understood the depth of Manuel’s faith when the man said, “I’ve learned that God is the one and only friend who will never abandon me. He was the only one with me in the desert when everything else was taken away.”

Manuel is one of the many immigrants that Father Groody has met during nearly 20 years of talking to people along the Mexican-American border about their lives and their faith. Father Groody shared the story of Manuel in a 2003 issue of America, a national Catholic weekly publication. He will share similar stories during a program at the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis on Oct. 9 at 7:30 p.m.

The focus of his talk will be “Immigration: What’s a Catholic to Think? How’s a Catholic to Respond?”

For Father Groody, the answers begin with the Gospel passage from St. Matthew in which Jesus says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Mt 25: 35-36).

“Catholic social teaching has reiterated that the true moral worth of any society is how it treats its most vulnerable members,” Father Groody writes in Notre Dame Magazine.

“From a faith perspective, I have learned that those who suffer the most deserve the greatest hearing, even though, ironically, their voices are often the last to be heard, if at all,” he continued. “As some of the most vulnerable members of society, immigrants have helped me see that whatever ‘rights’ are at stake in this debate, one of the most neglected is human rights.”

Father Groody often mentions Maria, an immigrant from Guatemala who tried to cross the Mexican-American border twice, wanting to earn money for medication for a family member. During the two attempts, someone tried to rape her, a gang robbed her at gunpoint and she ran out of food and water. Both times, she was captured by the Border Patrol.

“I asked her what she would say to God if she had 15 minutes to talk to God in person,” writes Father Groody, the author of Border of Death, Valley of Life: An Immigrant Journey of Heart and Spirit. “She looked at me askance, as if I were totally out of it. She said, ‘First of all, I don’t have 15 minutes. God is always with me, and I am always talking with God. But if I could see God face to face, the first thing I would do is thank God, for I have been given so much.”

Father Groody knows the immigration issue is controversial and complex. He knows the Border Patrol police face a difficult situation, which sometimes includes being shot at by drug smugglers. He has heard the concerns about undocumented immigrants, national security and the protection of American workers. Still, amid the concerns, the complexities and the controversies, Father Groody keeps coming back to one fundamental belief.

He believes that Christians must distinguish themselves by the quality of their hearts—as measured by how they care for the people who are often considered the least significant of society.

He also sees a lesson in the faith of Manuel, Maria and other immigrants who leave their homes and even risk death for the opportunity to have a better life.

“One of the great marvels of God is that such hope springs forth amid great suffering,” he writes. “Immigrants not only compel us toward the works of mercy of Matthew 25, but challenge us to discover a spirit of divine gratuity where most of us would tend to see only despair and abandonment. Their stories call us not only to reach out to those in need, but also to find God in the most unlikely places.”

(For more information about Father Groody and his work at Notre Dame, check www.dyingtolive.nd.edu.)

Oct. 9 immigration talk is open to the public

What: A talk about immigration from the perspective of Catholic social teaching and action.

Who: The talk will be given by Holy Cross Father Daniel Groody, an assistant professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. Father Groody has spent nearly 20 years working along the United States and Mexico border.

When: Monday, Oct. 9, at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center, Assembly Hall, 1400 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis.

Sponsor: Catholic Charities Indianapolis.


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