Every August for the last several years, the St. Cloud Area Faith Leaders group has hosted a picnic for members of our various faith communities — Christian, Muslim and others. We share good food and good conversations. We meet new people and learn a little more about one another. The faith leaders group hosts its next picnic Aug. 25.
The annual gathering and our regular monthly meetings foster closer relationships and build community — which is why it was disappointing to read The New York Times article at the start of summer that characterized St. Cloud as a city tarnished by anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments.
Despite the good efforts of many local civic and faith leaders to build cultural bridges, we still have much work to do to change attitudes and dispel prejudices. The vast majority of immigrants and refugees coming to central Minnesota are escaping desperate economic and political situations. They want to start new lives and share their gifts with our communities, not take something away from us.
But we aren’t the only ones struggling with our attitudes toward newcomers. Our nation faces the ongoing challenge of a broken immigration system. Too often, migrants are falsely scapegoated as the source of society’s problems. Too often, we ignore their plight and fail to treat them with the compassion the Gospel demands. Who can forget the terrible image of the Salvadoran father and his young daughter who drowned while trying to cross a river at the U.S.-Mexico border? This incident was another shocking reminder that we must do better.
In his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which the Church observes in September, Pope Francis tells us that the presence of migrants and other vulnerable people “is an invitation to recover … essential dimensions of our Christian existence and our humanity that risk being overlooked in a prosperous society.” How we respond to newcomers says a lot about what we believe regarding the human family.
“It is not just about migrants,” the Holy Father says. It’s also about our own doubts and fears, particularly “when they condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even — without realizing it — racist.” It’s about foundational Christian values of charity, compassion, inclusion and serving those in need.
The pope offers four simple words as a prescription for responding to the challenges we face: welcome, protect, promote and integrate.
I encourage you to take Pope Francis’ words to heart: Seek out opportunities to meet, welcome and learn more about immigrants and refugees in your area. Visit an immigrant-owned business. Encourage your elected officials to support immigration reform that is fair and just. Pray for those struggling to adapt to their new lives in our country as well as those struggling to overcome their own personal fears and hesitancies.
Be a bridge-builder, not a barrier, between cultures and faith traditions. This is what our St. Cloud Area Faith Leaders group strives to be. The more we talk, spend time together and learn from one another, the stronger our communities will be.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+ Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of Saint Cloud