This is the homily delivered by Bishop Richard Pates Feb. 28 at a prayer service for immigrants and refugees.
Tonight revelers across the globe, especially in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, are dancing and singing in celebrations known as Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday. They are preparing to enter the Christian period of Lent – 40 days of prayer and fasting beginning with Ash Wednesday.
We might consider ourselves at the opposite end of the spectrum feeling downcast, mourning, experiencing fear and anxiety in light of harsh discriminating treatment of refugees and immigrants in our country. Yet that is not what we are about. As Christians we gather in prayer as people of hope whose very action of prayer signals the truth that we trust in God. He is the one who will lead us and we know the outcome, his love will prevail. Thus, beneath it all is a penetrating assurance in our hearts because of who our God is.
We attribute our confidence to a God who has created every human person in his image and likeness. Each individual is worthy of dignity and respect because of one’s divine origin and eternal destiny. This recognition has broadened our vision. Pope Francis repeatedly sings the refrain: We are one human family all brothers and sisters.
This reality has been captured in the history and culture of the United States. Our foundational documents establish very clearly: “Every man, woman and child is equal in this nation and called to be equal.” Because our country continually traces its roots to immigrants and refugees, we are privileged generation after generation to welcome them and to assist them as they are stitched into the mosaic which we proudly trumpet as the United States of America.
Our hope and foundational confidence reside not only in the identity attributed to our God but also the mission entrusted to us, his people. For, at this moment, as never before, we are called to be bridge-builders in the non-violent spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.
Pope Francis has categorically stated that we Christians do not build walls but that we build bridges. It is that vision which propels us to:
- Build bridges with refugees who are desperately seeking a new life treating them as brothers and sisters in terrible need rather than as enemies;
- Build bridges with families and the undocumented and refuse to allow our own police/military to rip mothers and fathers from their children. There is a pathway to acceptance and forgiveness. It is the high road, let us take it.
- We must build bridges that open our sights to see Muslim women, men and children as sons and daughters of God rather than as forces of fear. All over the world people live together in peace and harmony and they come from different races, faiths, government traditions, nationalities. As we build bridges, so it can be in our country.
- From Iowa, with our remarkable capacity for food production we must build bridges to those who are poor and share nutritional food especially with children giving them the opportunity to pursue the American dream.
As people of faith, we do not come today huddled in fear and desperation. On the contrary, we gather as people committed to the highest expressions of truth knowing that working together, committed to being individuals of peace and courage we can move forward and make a difference. We do not kid ourselves. It will not necessarily be easy or without pain and hard effort. But, in the end we believe God’s love will prevail – through us, his people, bridge-builders of our time.
On this Mardi Gras evening we are not celebrating with raucous music, parades, dancing, beads and drums. Nonetheless, we are people of deep joy with the assurance that God is our companion, his love will never fail especially in these moments punctuated by outside forces creating fear and anxiety.