This is the fasting that I wish: Setting free the oppressed. (Isaiah 58:6)
Almighty God liberated His chosen people from slavery in Egypt—the Passover. Our Christian religion rests squarely on that event. We can consider our religion from a million different angles. But from all of them, our Christian understanding of reality arises from God liberating slaves.
Last week I spent a few days of precious vacation in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. I wound up doing some extensive reading on the 1822 Denmark Vesey Rebellion, a secretly planned slave uprising, which got thwarted by the authorities at the last minute.
Historians do not agree on the potential extent, or likelihood of success, that the rebellion might have had, if it had proceeded as planned. But this much seems perfectly clear: In the spring of 1822, the city of Charleston and its surrounding environs had two completely unconnected universes of communication.
The white universe regarded the enslavement of Africans as a normal, unobjectionable part of everyday life. The black universe—at least that part of it involved in planning the rebellion—regarded the wholesale killing of whites in a sudden, decisive military enterprise as altogether justified, for the sake of taking political control of the city and establishing a legitimate social order, free of slavery.
What Charleston did not have was a bridge of communication between these two universes. No one cleared the air by declaring openly: “Slavery is wrong, and killing is wrong. Let’s peacefully re-organize everything on the basis of the dignity of the human individual.”
Maybe a common agreement on that principle could have provided a starting-point for ending the incredible, unendurable tension in the Charleston air that spring. It could have saved many lives and immeasurable misery. And no genuinely sane and reasonable person could disagree with such a principle.
But such was the fog of mind that clouded the town that no one enunciated the principle openly, and no one agreed with it, and no one co-operated with others based on it.
Now… Yes, this is Trump Country, southwest Virginia is. But, dear fellow Catholics of southwest Virginia, we have many, many Dreamers among us. Many DACA recipients, and many more DACA-eligible. Many Americans, who were born in Mexico, but who have lived here through all or most of their upbringing. They speak English better than they speak Spanish; they understand math and the internet better than you or me; this is their home, this land.
Does the government of the state of Virginia, or of the USA, have any right to treat these friends and neighbors of ours any differently than everyone else? To deprive these young people of the right to drive a car, to study, to work, to go to the doctor—to even live here?
We are talking about young people in our parishes, people whom we all know. Altar servers, religious-ed teachers, members of the choir, high-school classmates. The idea that any of these people have less of a right to live and thrive here; the idea that Providence or Fate wills for them to inhabit a lower tier of society, with fewer rights—that idea is patently and obviously not admissible to a Christian mind. It is a profoundly objectionable idea; we execrate it.
And yet it is the reality with which the Dreamers among us must live every day. Can’t plan for the future. Can’t join the army. Can’t safely take out student loans. Can’t obtain professional certifications to be a beautician or a nurse. Can’t know for sure if I’ll be able to live in the same country as my younger brother or sister, who was born here.
Ain’t right. We as a people will not get to a better future this way.
Dear Dreamers, We, the American electorate—We acknowledge that we bear ultimate responsibility for the fact that you find yourselves in this situation in mid-February, 2018. We are sorry. We want something better for you, and for us.