Last Saturday night we had our first meeting of a house church a number of us are trying to get off the ground. Ten people showed up. At least half of them admitted being there principally to humor me – because they’re such good friends. For that I remain extremely grateful.
By their very presence and participation, those good friends helped me clarify my own calling in these troubled times. They helped me realize that these are times of anti-Catholic persecution, and that the renewed oppression calls for thoughtful response. Please allow me to explain.
To begin with, at Saturday’s meeting, there was plenty of talk about Donald Trump. Everyone spoke of a sense of foreboding and depression at the events of the preceding week – the president’s first in office. There was all that xenophobia about Mexicans described as criminals and rapists – all that talk of The Wall.
One good friend described his impression of standing on a track in the face of an onrushing train with no power to stop it.
But another invoked the term metanoia – the Greek word for repentance in the sense of complete change of mind and action. He implied that as people of faith, we have to change profoundly. We need to man-up, woman-up and act like subjects rather than as powerless objects moved about by the tweets of the Bully-in-Chief. (His words made me reconsider my own immobility and resistance to change.)
Well, we finished our discussion, broke bread and shared wine around our dining room table. Afterwards, as we ate our potluck meal, we spoke of possible action during the coming week. There was talk of boycotting Trump products and services, writing letters, making phone calls, and even traveling to Standing Rock.
Following our liturgy, I felt a sense of profound gratitude for the generosity and good will my friends had shown. (They even stayed beyond the allotted time.) All the same, I worried that our suggested actions might never touch, for example, conservatives who voted for Mr. Trump or send ripples beyond our emerging little church.
I wondered what I might do personally to change that.
In the middle of that night, around 4:00 in the morning, I awoke suddenly with a possible response. It involves confronting the fact that a new government-sponsored persecution of Catholics is breaking out in our midst.
I’m not exaggerating. I mean, if I consider attacks on predominantly Muslim countries as veiled attacks on Islam, I should also consider attacks on predominantly Catholic countries as attacks on Catholicism.
Such antagonism has long and bloody precedent. In fact, all during the 1980s the United States fought what Noam Chomsky calls “the first religious war of the 21st century. On Chomsky’s analysis, it raged against the Catholic Church in Latin America whose bishops had together dared to affirm a “preferential option for the poor” as their official position. The conflict created chaos particularly in Central America, took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Latin American Catholics. Today its aftermath remains a principal cause behind the stream of refugees entering the U.S. through Mexico.
Donald Trump’s policies against refugees represents an extension of that 1980s religious war. In its current form, it vilifies and excludes Catholics as devoid of the moral standards the Church prides itself on teaching.
Think about it, Donald Trump has identified Mexicans and Central Americans (again, most of them Catholic) as morally deficient. The president said:
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Here Mr. Trump identifies good Mexican Catholics among us as the exception, not the rule. The vast majority, he claims, are drug dealers, criminals, and rapists.
However, my own specifically Catholic experience gives the lie to his words. He’s demonizing my fellow parishioners – people I consider my brothers and sisters in Christ. I know them by name: Amelia, Carlos, Ana, Isidro, Graciela, Ramon. . . Criminals? Rapists? Drug dealers?
There are at least 100 such people in my Berea Kentucky church of 200 families. And that doesn’t even count the DACA students in our local Berea College. Under Trump, all of these people and their families stand accused not only by the president, but by those he emboldens to harass them. In other words, our fellow Catholics are in danger, so are their sources of income, their health and well-being.
Recently after church, I spoke with some of the endangered. They all agreed; they feel threatened and quite frightened. Moreover, they would appreciate more evident solidarity and support from Anglo parishioners who, in the case of our Berea church attend a separate Mass (at 9:00 a.m.) while Hispanics attend either a Spanish language Mass at 11:00, or both the 9:00 and 11:00 Masses.
How then might I respond to the plight of their Hispanic brothers and sisters in Christ? Here’s what I’m thinking: I might
- Clearly identify in my own mind President Trump’s policies as anti-Catholic and specifically threatening to my fellow parishioners.
- Lobby my senators and congressional representative to vote against Mr. Trump’s immigration policies.
- Use the term “anti-Catholic” in my phone messages to those politicians.
- Use similar language in writing to Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who describes himself as a “devout Catholic.”
- Try to persuade the parish council in my local church to declare our parish a sanctuary for the refugees and immigrants among us.
- In general, show solidarity with my fellow undocumented parishioners.
- Begin participating in the 11:00 “Hispanic Mass” instead of the 9:00 mostly Anglo ceremony.
- Be undeterred by my diffidence about not speaking Spanish well enough, realizing instead that my good will goes a long way towards establishing the sense of solidarity and support that our Hispanic brothers and sisters need.
- Pair up with new friends and offer to spend time with them in conversation to help them learn English.
I suspect that actions like those, if adopted more generally, would start parish-wide conversations about Mr. Trump’s policies that affect “brothers and sisters in Christ.” They might raise the awareness of conservative parishioners – and possibly even of our church leadership. Such actions hold the promise of mobilizing many against the Trump administration’s fearful xenophobic juggernaut that, as I’ve said, is quite anti-Catholic.
I smile as Imagine what might happen across the country if Catholics responded in these ways.
Thank you, my good friends for helping me see the possibilities. Now it’s time for me to get to work.