Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez
Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras
One of our world’s most notorious paradoxes involves the issue that we have been addressing during this forum, in which we have studied and reflected on the situation of migrants, immigrants, refugees and itinerant people.
The paradox is even greater if we recall that this nation was built by immigrants who, along with the natural inhabitants of the land, have shaped this country. The paradox lies in the fact that we are in a world that is open to protecting economies and economic interests, but not people. Yes, it is a world that opens up itself up to economics and closes itself off to people.
The paradox is more disconcerting when we realize that protection is granted to political refugees, while economic refugees do not receive the necessary attention and are not treated with dignity.
During these days, we have undoubtedly recalled the accounts that we often find in the media about dramas along the border. Those things, and probably much more, are all true; we will never know everything that happens. There is a great deal of news about the border, but we cannot forget the outrages committed throughout the journey – the humiliating treatment, the broken families left behind in the migrants’ countries of origin, the economic efforts that make it possible for people to leave in search of better and greener pastures, the fragile economies of our countries, which in the long run are the cause of these situations, the betrayal by so-called coyotes, who deal in people, a new form of trafficking. We must not forget the problem of corruption that often causes many migrants to leave their countries, at least in Latin America, because they can no longer tolerate the situation. We must not forget our countries’ external debt, paid and repaid many times over with interest, which creates and perpetuates sociological and moral poverty among our people and leads to all kinds of migration.
We must not forget that behind the face of every one of the migrants whom we see in the streets of this country, there is a “story,” written in capital letters but practically ignored or, worse yet, denied, and the person humiliated.
Those who migrate, emigrate or are forced to leave as refugees have never had in mind taking away another person’s work, dignity or means of support. They are not thieves or usurpers. They go “in search of,” in good faith, with good intentions, and therefore cannot be treated as bad people or criminals, much less usurpers.
I would like to propose that we end these days with the flavor of the Gospel. I would like to propose Gospel attitudes for dealing with these brothers and sisters about whom we have spoken and reflected during these days.
I would like to propose “being companions on the journey.” The first thing that comes to mind when I think of proposing a new vision or way of looking at the world of migration is the passage from St. John (15:9): “As my father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love.”
In the vocation of every Christian, there is often a face that has stimulated us or motivated us to new way of life. These are exemplary people who have joined the saints or who are still pilgrims among us. Someone has invited us, welcomed us, accompanied us. Behind each of us we can see these faces, maternal, paternal, fraternal, which have revealed the beauty of God our Father and the worth of the human person.
This is what I propose: that we become maternal, paternal or fraternal faces for those who have left mother, father, brothers, sisters and land behind, so that, as the Gospel says, they receive and we receive a hundredfold and begin to experience eternal life here on earth.
If we tried right now to count on our fingers the faces of the people who have accompanied us, encouraged us and welcomed us up to this moment of our lives, I can assure you that the hands of all of us here would not be sufficient. How wonderful life has been to us; how wonderful God has been to us. And I think: “Love is repaid with love.” And I think: “There is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends...”
Let us consider the pain and deception that we Christians often cause when we refuse to welcome someone, or when, after the initial welcome, we are unable to persevere in love. When we help open up worlds and are not consistent enough to accompany on the journey. When we give the sense, or the certainty, that we are not interested and leave someone behind, or when instead of the gratuity of companionship and fraternity, we turn love into a knot and accompaniment into dependence, imposition or manipulation.
It is worthwhile, then, to commit ourselves to a proposal of fraternal love for this world of migration, inspired by God’s fatherly and motherly love.
It is worthwhile knowing that we are capable of being brothers or sisters, mothers or fathers to migrants. We know the road is not free of pain, but that is true of anything that is worth the effort; it is also the consequence of love that is freely offered.
The First Step is to Welcome
Welcoming is obviously the starting point. We could read the Gospel interminably in the code of welcoming, paying attention to the heartbeats of so many powerful moments in the life of Jesus, who, even just before he dies, takes time to welcome the Good Thief.
Welcoming does not mean simply giving a hand or opening our arms. Welcoming means allowing ourselves to be invaded by others, making a place for them in the deepest corners of our hearts, creating an atmosphere of trust so that the person can reveal his or her mystery. Welcoming is a ministry that leads to the mystery of God, of the person, of things. In the deepest sense, it means understanding the “being” of our God, who is always at the door, attentive, watchful, ready to take the initiative to love and reveal his mystery to anyone willing to meet him.
In human beings, welcoming is a feminine trait. It is the love that engenders, because it is the woman who welcomes the seed of a man into her womb and welcomes the new life growing within her. It is not strange, then, that St. Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary give us a master class in welcoming: not only by what these two holy women offer and give to one another, but by the way they both welcome the will of our God. This will is welcomed with an attentive ear, with open arms, with a willing soul, so that through it the mystery of each person is revealed and we can know something more of the unfathomable mystery of our God.
The first step of knowing how to welcome fits in perfectly with the topic that we are addressing, and also in our hearts, so that we can help change the migrants’ horizons. The ability to do so is in our hands.
The Second Step is to Encourage
Encouraging, on the other hand, is a more masculine trait. It means infusing with breath, as was done at creation, and penetrating the soul, as Jesus did with his gaze, laying bare the heart. It is not a gaze of inquisition. It is simply the gaze of love, which is capable of breaking through the defenses of fear that we so often see among the Hispanics, Asians and Africans whom we encounter in the streets of large cities in this country.
Encouraging is an act of healing presence that restores joy in living, as Jesus did with the paralyzed man or with the woman who suffered from a hemorrhage: “Have courage, your faith has saved you.”
But it is also an act of revelation that leads us to the source of meaning: It is good for you that I go ... because I will send the Paraclete, the one who encourages, who will lead you to the truth.
Encouragement is related to the virtue of hope. It makes us find reasons for living, for loving, for suffering, and the energy to bring them to fruition. For this reason, encouragement culminates in the Paschal mystery, particularly in Pentecost. There we go to the source. There the Spirit of the new creation calls to us. The Paschal Mystery of our Lord is the most fertile source of life and consolation: “Take courage, for I have overcome the world.”
The Third Step is Accompaniment
Accompanying, meanwhile, means abiding in love. It means prolonging in time and space the welcoming and the encouragement. Accompanying is faithfulness in action. For this reason it is, perhaps, the deepest trait that we owe to our migrant brothers and sisters; it is a way of giving life. It brings into play all the energy of those who accompany and all their humility, because they know that they are not the ones who give grace, but are simply instruments of the Lord. It is, I repeat, a mature attitude – at whatever age – on the part of the person who decides to give up the dependence of a child and give himself or herself as father or mother, with everything that this type of love entails, to help engender other people spiritually, to help them learn to love, to grow in freedom, to mature in life and, in the case of most migrants, to recover the dignity that they have lost along the way.
Perhaps the clearest example of accompaniment in the Gospels is Jesus’ relationship with his disciples, especially Peter.
In an act of love, Jesus calls Peter, who leaves his nets to follow in the Lord’s footsteps. One night, while keeping vigil, Jesus prays and chooses Peter to be His messenger. In a moment of intimacy, Peter confesses Jesus as Teacher and Lord, and Jesus reveals to Peter his preferential love. We can repeat this attitude of Jesus’: we can call someone who has already left nets and boat behind in their land, pray with them during a night of vigil and reach the solemn moment when we can recognize them as our brothers and sisters and express our “preferential love” like Jesus and Peter.
Accompaniment, like welcoming and encouragement, is not only aimed at people. It is also necessary to accompany communities. This is what we learn from Paul with each of the communities he founded, especially those of Corinth or the Philippians, which caused him so much suffering and which – perhaps for this reason, as with our own parents – inspired in his heart such paternal and maternal love.
It is interesting to read the Letters to the Corinthians, which are eminently apostolic, to discover the strength of the love of this man, who clearly understood that he had engendered them, proclaiming the Gospel to them (1 Cor. 4:15-17), and who declares his fatherly and motherly love. Who speaks of Timothy as “my beloved son” and of Titus with tender love (2 Cor. 7:2-16). This Paul, who is so dominating, so controversial, so passionate, who reveals the deepest parts of his being, his anguish, his tears and his love, who does not want to impose himself on his children.... Who even says that he is braver correcting them in letters than when he is actually present with them....
It is enough to reread the beginning of his letter to the Philippians, which is perhaps the most revealing of Paul’s extreme sensitivity to the Lord – we need only count how many times he names him in just five chapters – and to the community he loves so much:
- “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you...”
- “It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart...”
- “For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus...”
- “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight, to help you determine what is best...” (Phil. 1:3-11).
Characteristics of Accompaniment
After this brief glance at Jesus and St. Paul, it is appropriate to describe some of the characteristics of accompaniment, always against the backdrop of the Paternal and Maternal figure of God, because the only people capable of accompanying are those who are willing to take, in their lives, the step of becoming a father or mother. Age does not matter – there are very precocious fathers and mothers. What is important is the maturity of the heart, maturity in love ... because all accompaniments imply a deep, even sacrificial, offering.
Accompany the One Who Abides in Love
To love is beautiful. It is more difficult to remain in love. It is wonderful to love. It is more difficult to remain faithful to the beloved. It is exciting to love. It is more difficult to forgive. And no one can say they have attained love unless they have passed through the crucible of forgiveness.
Accompaniment is this: “As my Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love” (Jn. 15:9).
And abiding in love “for better and for worse, in sickness and in health.” Abiding when we agree and when we disagree. When people do what we want and when they do not. When they listen to us and when they do not listen; when we are recognized and when we are abandoned; when someone thanks us and when we are forgotten. Abiding in love ... as my Father loves you ... this is the definite point of comparison for all accompaniment.
When we go from being children to being parents, we must travel along the road of pain, forgiveness and generosity. It is the step into maturity; it is an Easter in every sense of the word.
The Road of Pain
The first road that leads to spiritual parenthood is pain, because there is no mercy without tears ... tears that spring from the eyes or the heart. We know that we only suffer for that which we love. Therefore, accompaniment that is not united to the sacrament of pain – to the cross – may be spiritual comradeship, but it is not an act of engendering or of taking responsibility for the life that we have helped bring to birth. Rather, when we seek to travel the road of fraternity from end to end, pain becomes a source of prayer, a discipline of the soul that allows us to attain great freedom in love.
To Welcome is to Walk the Road of Generosity
Part of the grace of love is to love each person individually. And to each one, to every son, to every daughter, we would like to give all, holding nothing back. This is the deepest sense of inheritance.
“If your child asks for bread would you give him a stone? And if he asks for an egg, would you give him a scorpion? ...Give to those who ask you for a loan ... and if someone asks you to walk a mile with him, walk ten.... Otherwise, what credit is that to you?” (Cf. Lk. 11:8-13, 6:27-38).No one has greater love than those who give their lives for those they love.
And this attitude also implies the discipline of letting go, of not coveting, of not being greedy, not with affection, not with time, not with things. Every time we take one step toward generosity, we are moving from fear toward love.
Unless we accept pain, offer forgiveness and choose generosity, we cannot aspire to accompany. But we need not be afraid: the same One who awakens in us the gift of accompaniment will give us the grace to do so.
To Accompany is to Believe Deeply in the Other
To abide in love requires a grounding in faith. To accompany is to have faith in the other: in his or her word, dreams, choices and life.... Having faith, even though we disagree.... Having faith even when we encounter inconsistency, the precariousness of a person’s word, difficulty in being consistent. Having faith, even amid sin.
Accompanying is a great act of trust, like the trust the Father showed in us by giving us the fullness of the Spirit of Pentecost just after His beloved Son had been denied and crucified. It is the trust of the father who gives his ring, with the seal that gives authority to dispose of all his goods, to the son who has squandered his fortune. It is the trust of Jesus, who gives to Peter a place of leadership in the community of believers, so that it is the one who betrayed Him who must confirm His brothers and sisters in the faith. ...
This attitude is not as illogical as it appears, because it is precisely the experience of total trust amid complete knowledge that leads to a change of life: When they believe in me and still place their hope in me, although they know who I am and precisely because they know who I am, in my greatness and in my very smallness. An act of faith....
But it is also an act of respect for what God is doing in another person, certain that “whoever has begun the good work will finish it well.” The one who does the good work is the Spirit of God, not the one who accompanies. The one who accompanies is only an instrument.
Meanwhile, the most difficult thing for the person who is being accompanied is to perceive a lack of trust. It is almost a reason for abandoning this caricature of a brother. More difficult still is to find that this complete openness has been used against him. This is called betrayal. And unfortunately, it sometimes occurs, damaging the trust that has been placed not only in the one who is accompanying, but also in the Church.
It is also difficult to feel that someone believes in me only when their choices coincide with mine. It is hard to feel that the one who opened my eyes, or who helped me open them, does not dare to accompany me along the most twisting paths, where choices are more questionable.
But accompanying is also an act of faith, because it means proposing to the other person or community criteria that are rooted in the Kingdom of God, not just personal criteria. This is what Paul does with Corinth in the case of the person who committed incest or the divisiveness that destroyed the community.
We must be careful not to create dependence. Within the Church, we want to help give birth to people who are mature, not dependent personalities. The Father wants to have mature sons and daughters, not to oversee a kindergarten forever. We learn this from St. Paul, who first gives milk, then solid food....
A Situation in Which We Must Hope Against Hope
The love and faith that are present in accompaniment always go hand in hand with hope: the same hope that the Father has in the work of His hands. Despite original sin, despite the scorn His prophets faced, despite the rejection of His beloved Son. As St. Paul says: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” And that is the case with the person whose mission is to accompany.
One amazing characteristic of the virtue of hope is that it is not obvious:The experienced eye of the person who believes in hope knows how to detect its fertile sprouts in the lives of those of us who are called to accompany. And this hidden presence, which seems so small, nearly invisible, helps affirm people’s hope in themselves and in other groups.
Hope that is seen is not hope.
Hope is coquettish; it must be sought out.
Hope is shy; it must be discovered.
Hope is as fragile and small as the Child of Bethlehem, and must be cared for.
Hope is as vulnerable and as strong as Easter, and must be celebrated.
There is little sense in pointing out defects, what is missing, what was done wrong. Sometimes it must be done. It requires honesty, but not much creativity and even less contemplation. Finding strength in the weakness – that is the grace of the Lord.
This comes from Christian hope. Pointing out a defect and not taking responsibility for it can be irresponsible. We only have the right to point out a limitation, a sin or a defect if we are willing to accompany the person on the road to overcoming it. Anything else is abuse of authority, irresponsibility. It creates guilty consciences, not hopeful spirits. It puts us above the other, not at their feet, where a servant should be.
Hope is always directed toward Life, knowing that this involves death. It is directed toward the destination, without ignoring the fatigue of the journey. It does not lose itself in details, but focuses on what is essential. It is directed toward the radical goodness that God has created in the human heart, which will always be unblemished even though sin may try to deface it or even destroy it. Because of this, instead of getting caught up in details, it invites us to look at the array of people and communities, to delight in their progress and point them out to those we accompany.
Seeing Migrants with the Eyes of God
I am aware of the difficulty. At first glance, it seems easier, or at least more attractive, to build, to manage, preach or celebrate than to accompany.
I am not questioning or minimizing the value of preaching or celebration. I could not.... But it always requires a face-to-face encounter, father to son, the Cyrene who helped carry the cross, the experienced person who encourages another to withstand the fatigue of the journey, showing that what seems to be a mountain is only a bump in the road....
For this reason, the most basic element of the service of the one who accompanies is and always will be to place in the Lord, in his hands, the people and communities being accompanied: it is He who holds them in the palm of his hand. It means seeing with the eyes of God: it is He who watches over them as the apple of his eye. It means loving them with the Father’s heart: it is He who always hopes, scanning the horizon, unseen but never failing to keep watch. Ideally,to accompany is to incarnate the fatherly figure of God: to be his sacrament.
To conclude, I would like to make a triple proposal that implies at least three attitudes: 1) respect for the other person’s freedom; 2) giving advice with humility; and 3) discovering the language of love.
Respecting freedom and doing so as God does with us. Not spying, not wanting to tie people down, not even with invisible threads. The only possible bond is that of love ... which always liberates.
Giving advice with humility, placing our experience at the service of others. Love never humiliates another person. This is especially true in our case, when we are aware of our limits, our inconsistencies, our late conversions. God seduces, invites, encourages, stimulates, corrects, warns. Love never imposes.
The one who accompanies is not an oracle, is not the Word of God, is not the definitive opinion, let alone judge and jury. The one who accompanies is a vulnerable person with the soul of a father, with the heart of a mother, who wants to offer the best of his or her love knowing that this – the best – also has its stumbling blocks. We will never be mature enough or gratuitous enough to truly live up to this task.
A degree of reciprocity is normal between parents and children, and we who accompany will learn a great deal from the people whom we accompany: from their authenticity, their inner seeking, the sensitivity of their awareness, their greatness of heart.
The person who accompanies is called to discover the language of love, not only in words, but also in gestures.
This is obvious. If it is of God, it is the only way, and this is God’s language.... It is Jesus laying His hands on the children. It is Jesus looking with intense love at the rich young man. It is Jesus standing up for the woman caught in adultery or the one in Simon’s house. It is Jesus on the cross, His arms outstretched between heaven and earth, reconciling this wounded humanity. Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father.
It is Jesus who speaks words of love: the most longed for, the most novel, the most revealing. He speaks with authority because with His eyes of love, He is able to discover what lies within each person. And that gaze is always within reach for anyone who wants to learn to see with the eyes of the Lord.
Out of this gaze come the timely words, the wise advice, the moments of revelation that help a person realize who he or she really is....
We must not only pay attention to the words of those who seek our company: we must also be attentive to gestures, to looks, to hands, to silence, to know how to understand what words do not know how to say or sometimes cannot say. This same attention is reflected in the body language of the one who accompanies, invites, welcomes and provides encouragement.
Accompanying is an art, in the fullest sense of the term. It is not easy to understand the ways of the human spirit, so complex, so subtle. It is not easy to have the right word, the timely piece of advice, the correction, and the encouraging word. Nor is it easy to know which new step should be recommended in the life of a person or a community. This is something that cannot be improvised: It is necessary to study, to contemplate, to know oneself better, to know the other person.