By Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.
January 8, 2017, was the first day of National Migration Week (described by the U.S. Catholic Bishops as “… an opportunity for the Church to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, including immigrants, refugees, children, and victims and survivors of human trafficking”), the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, and a day in the midst of a news cycle about possible changes in the U.S. refugee resettlement program. At Mass that Sunday, I was standing at my customary post in the St. Norbert Abbey Church—welcoming guests and handing out worship aids.
There are usually about 120 guests for Sunday Mass at the abbey. Some come every Sunday; others are visiting the area for the weekend and discovered this convenient time and location; others live in the area and “bop in” less regularly. There are singles, couples, and larger families that regularly attend this Mass; the age range is indicative of the usual spread at any Catholic church on a given Sunday morning.
But, to be honest, the assembly generally does not reflect the cultural diversity of the U.S. Catholic Church; it is pretty white, with most descended from western European countries. But for some reason, I noticed a family of four from India for the first time at our abbey that Sunday. Before Mass, I approached them in their pew and asked them if they would bear the offertory gifts that morning; they were honored to be asked and agreed to do so.
Abbot Gary Neville, O. Praem., presided and preached that morning. In the context of the Epiphany, National Migration Week, and Pope Francis’ and the U.S. Bishops’ frequent messaging on “bridges not walls,” welcoming the newcomer amongst us, and the severity of the world’s current refugee crisis, the abbot’s homily “nailed it.” Or, to use a baseball expression, “he hit it out of the park.” On this Epiphany, we received a reminder that this most solemn feast reminds all of us to be a welcoming community to people of all backgrounds, as the Holy Family received foreign magi who recognized the greatness of the newborn Jesus. The newborn Jewish child was sent by God the Father for the redemption of all people.
These are difficult days for refugees and immigrants fleeing countries from troublespots on nearly every continent. And, this is a stressful time for the many advocates who have worked on the ground while helping to resettle migrants in our country, or who have spent days/months/years engaging government officials for more just migration policies.
I silently wept that morning. My four new Indian “friends” represented the entire assembly when they bore the gifts of bread and wine, not unlike the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh bore by the “other wisemen from the East” in that morning’s Gospel. In one small way, for one brief moment, I witnessed the exact sense of acceptance and welcome that our Norbertine community extends to our guests—regardless of their race, country of origin, or social class. The “stars” of National Migration Week, Epiphany Sunday, the current debate surrounding safety for migrants, and Norbertine hospitality really did align.