As buses rolled into Washington, D.C., with mystified immigrants not knowing where they would end up, one could not but feel: There is a better way than this to manage homeless human beings being treated savagely.
In seminary studies, one of my areas of interest was German immigration to America. Like thousands of Latinos/Latinas, German immigrants did not speak English. And yet volunteers were able to break through the language barrier by speaking the heartfelt language of humanity.
Under the patronage of St. Raphael, the protector of immigrants, Peter Paul Cahensly, a German layperson dedicated to serving German immigrants, helped to establish St. Raphael-Verein.
From the moment people left from Bremen and Le Havre, immigrants were provided information to ensure a safe journey and make their arrival to America a wholesome experience.
At American ports where the immigrants arrived, St. Raphael-Verein built chapels, created banking and deposit systems, established counseling facilities and offered the possibility of attending Mass in the German language.
Immigrants also learned where to travel to do farmwork with German communities.
Above all, the main effort of St. Raphael-Verein was protecting the body and soul of new arrivals.
Benedictine Father Boniface Wimmer left Germany to establish the first Benedictine monastery in America, and like Cahensly, keeping Catholic faith and education strong was the driving force behind his missionary effort.
Times have dramatically changed since turn-of-the-century immigration to our country. As then, so too today there is a backlash against immigrants.
One reason is a bigger financial challenge. Housing is tight, inflation is exceedingly high, and the pandemic has made some people skeptical about welcoming immigrants who might spread COVID-19. And worst of all, there are closed-minded white supremacists.
Undoubtedly, multiple high hurdles exist to overcome. And yet, as in the past, protecting the body and soul of immigrants and especially their religious faith is still the best means for overcoming daunting hurdles.
Living the Christian principle “for” — as in Christ died “for” us — shows that serving another can move mountains.
Father Hemrick is a columnist for Catholic News Service.