When the President & CEO of Catholic Charities USA, Sr. Donna Markham spoke at the Mystical Rose Oratory at Chaminade University in Honolulu on Sunday September 30, 2018, she relieved the bleak landscape of our daily news with stories which were heart-breaking, yes, but which also gave us hope and quickened our desire to help. The account she gave of undocumented immigrants making perilous journeys over thousands of miles to find a safe place to lay their heads both horrified and moved her listeners. Who among us is not exhausted by the recurring scandals that have plagued the church? Who among us has not felt crushed at the lack of forceful prophetic witness by the Catholic Bishops in the face of government policies shepherded by conspicuously Christian lawmakers who do not seem to have read or taken to heart Matthew 25? No wonder then that her audience applauded instinctively when she spoke of the nearly 800 children Catholic Charities has reunited with their parents.
This was no “Sister Mary Holy Card.” This year’s Mackey Lecture was given by a clinical psychologist who works with people struggling with the trauma of being on the move, an expert on the delivery of mental health services who had served for 10 years as the president and CEO of the Southdown Institute in Ontario.
If you want to help, VOTE
Few have managed to get an inside look at how the children detained at the border and separated from the parents are doing. Sr. Donna has. Despite resistance, she managed to tour the detention facility for children at McAllen, Texas, and met and prayed with families waiting to apply for asylum at the Nogales Port of Entry.
The experience was harrowing. Vote, she said, as she described the hellish conditions and the terror of little children bewildered by what has been done to them. Vote, she said, as she described bureaucratic procedures that had parents who did not speak English being asked to put their signature to documents that they did not realize committed them to giving up their children. Vote, she said as she described children as young as five years, clinging to her and another Catholic Charities nun because they were the closest thing to the mothers or grandmothers from whom they had been torn. She recalled one woman asking her if it was okay to breastfeed her baby because she had been told that it was against the law and her baby would be taken away if she did.
She described two brothers who had escaped from Honduras. One was confined to a wheelchair as a result of being caught in the crossfire of a gangfight. So his brother pushed him across thousands of miles, wearing out both the soles of their shoes and the tires on his brother’s wheelchair. It took them a year to reach the United States. On foot. Today, as those brothers await their day in court, they are hosted by the Dominican Friars in Chicago because Sr. Donna, drawing on old connections, picked up the phone and asked for the help of Very Rev. James Marchionda, O.P.Prior Provincial of the Order. The response was swift and generous.
See the stranger, help the stranger
Sr. Donna spoke of unlearning stereotypes about refugees as she came into direct contact with them. “We got a call one night from airport officials looking for someone to help a Romanian couple who had just arrived with nothing more than the clothes on their back.” They were highly educated, she said, the woman being a concert pianist whose hands had been broken when she was tortured so she would not play again. Her husband would not speak of the torture he endured. Their efforts at uncovering an organ donation racket had led to their persecution.
“I had to ask myself how I would feel if I fled to a strange country and had to depend on strangers for everything. I was ashamed I had not better understood the plight of refugees sooner,” she said. “And that is what informs our work: the need to truly see who is lying by the side of the road. Who needs our care? Do we stop to tend the one who is hurt, as the Samaritan did, or do we cross the road to avoid that person in need?”
Sr. Donna ended her talk by reminding her audience that the experience of the estimated 65 million people “on the move” with no country, no land, fleeing for their lives and living constantly in danger” is beyond anything we can possibly imagine. The prevailing official attitude is less one of providing care and more one that insists we get rid of these people. So, vote.
Each of us can help. By volunteering. Through donations of time and cash. Through advocacy. By reaching over and touching the person in need. By accompanying them, in ways big and small. By voting.
For more information : https://www.catholiccharitieshawaii.org/programs-services/immigrants