Father Daniel Groody, a professor from Notre Dame University in the United States and a Roman Catholic priest, presented a theological approach to the topic of migration at a Tuesday 8 March gathering in the library of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva.
This academic focus and his work as director of the university’s Centre for Latino Spirituality and Culture grow out of his ministry with migrants on the US-Mexican border.
Groody noted how the science of genetics has demonstrated that migration is intrinsic to the human experience. An analysis of his DNA and that of a relative shows how the family moved across continents and oceans over thousands of years. "Migration," he concluded, "is part of our genetic make-up."
However, there is a strong connection between migration and spirituality, too. The Bible is full of stories of migration, Groody pointed out. The call of Abraham; the exodus; exile and return in the prophetic era; Christ’s birth in a stable and his family's immediate flight into Egypt, his journeying towards Jerusalem, his death and resurrection; the missionary activities of the apostles: all these are marked by migration.
By working with migrants and refugees you learn that migration ʺis not just a socio-political issue, but it is something that is deeply theological and spiritual, that names what it means to be human,ʺ said Groody. Behind every migrant and refugee there is a deeper story.
Groody told of his encounter with a man who had crossed the Mexican desert in order to reach the US border. His story echoed something the theologian often hears from migrants. The most difficult and painful part of their journey, the migrant told him, is not the physical challenge, but the behaviour of others towards the dispossessed.
As the migrant said, ʺI crossed mountains and I almost froze to death; I traversed deserts and I almost baked to death; I have been hot, I have been cold; I have almost run out of oxygen inside train cars, but that is not really the hardest part. The hardest part is when people treat you like you are a dog; like you are the lowest form of life on Earth; like you mean nothing to anyone.ʺ
For Father Daniel, it is exactly this inhumane dimension that has to be named openly by the churches, as it applies to the core values of humanity. In fact it goes beyond political categorizations: migrants, refugees, internally displaced persons, victims of human trafficking.
The churches must look beyond all the politically correct terminology and even their own ways of speaking about public issues, to reach the inner core: the fact that every person is made in the image of God, Groody said. This is something that must be grasped by the mind and the heart, and the church’s response must be shaped by both. Christians should not ignore all the under-reported tragedies. Thousands of people are dying unrecognized and unnamed every year, trying to cross deserts in order to reach their ‘promised land’.
The presentation and the subsequent discussion were sponsored by the WCC programme on women in church and society, in cooperation with the WCC visitors programme. Father Daniel Groody is visiting Geneva to consult with staff of the WCC and other international organizations on the interconnection of migration, the rights of women and children migrants, climate change, displaced persons and refugees, human trafficking and Christian pastoral ministry.