Last night Annunciation House hosted a rosary. Specifically we took part in the “Strangers No Longer: Together in the Journey of Hope for comprehensive immigration reform” series of “migrant” rosaries that have taken place these past two weeks, culminating on Saturday with a border mass which I am really excited to attend. The slogan, so to say, of these two weeks is “We need to PRAY and We need to ACT!”
To say I was a bit uneasy about all of this would be an understatement. First of all, I had no idea what a rosary was, as I’m not Catholic. Secondly, I feel uncomfortable being part of any religious event, but especially one in which I am asked to take any sort of role, as I’m still very much in the intellectual and spiritual exploration stage. And finally, I am really weary of explicitly mixing politics and religion in such a direct way.
As the volunteer community has been preparing for this event over the past weeks I was very hesitant to want to help with anything at all for these reasons, (though was thrilled when asked if I would be willing to make cookies for the event!). I just kept thinking about people who use religion to promote really conservative political beliefs because they are supposedly rooted in the Bible, such as putting women in a lower position, not supporting gay rights, or condemning a person for taking a drink of alcohol or having sex before marriage. What makes it any different just because I happen to agree with the political beliefs being put forward?
However, there was no way I was not going to attend an event that we put on, and I was curious to see how I would feel about this mixture of politics and religion when I saw it in action, so along with almost every single guest in our houses, I attended the rosary last night. I purposely sat in the back of the parking lot instead of in the chairs next to the guests so that they would not notice that I was not saying the Catholic prayers along with them. I was ready of observe and think,
The first 30 minutes or so were about what I expecting to feel: discomfort when statements such as the following were made:
“Aunque mucha gente ha luchado por una reforma migratoria justa, y ha defendido la causa del migrante, otros estan gritando, ‘Crucifiquelos!'” after the first mystery when Jesus is condemned to death [translation: “While many have advocated for just immigration legislation and have defended the migrant’s cause, others are shouting “Crucify them!'”
“Veras que soy un hombre, no puedo ser extranjero” in a song sung entitled “No Me Llames Extranjero” [translation: “You will see that because I am human I cannot be a foreigner” from the song “Don’t Call Me a Foreigner”
“Maria madre de los migrantes intercede ante tu hijo para que derribemos los muros de egoismo, haznos capaces de construir puentes de fraternidad, que todos nos descubramos hermanos, hijos tuyos y dicipulos de Jesus” from the Ofrecimiento General del Rosario [translation: Mary mother of the migrants intercede before your son so that we can break down the walls of selfishness, make us capable of building bridges based on fraternity, that everyone should discover that we are brothers and sisters, children of yours and disciples of Jesus” from The General Rosary Offering]
When I first heard some of these quotes I was uncomfortable: religion is often used as a justification for the leaders to convince their followers that they are right. Therefore, by saying the first mystery about Jesus being condemned to death and then saying that some people in the US are calling to “crucify” the immigrants, they are indirectly referring to the immigrant as a representation of Jesus, who like Jesus, are being unjustly persecuted. While I politically agreed, I wasn’t sure why this was any better than the conservative churches. My cynical self turned to ideas like that of Karl Marx’s classification of religion as “the opiate of the masses” whereby leaders can manipulate people into acting in a way that they so desire.
But then I thought about another famous philosophical quote: All human actions are political actions (this quote is approximate, as I was pretty sure it was Aristotle, but doing a quick google search I can’t find it, so let me know if you do know!). In other words, all actions, speeches, religious events, etc. are by their nature political because we are political beings. Furthermore, choosing to discuss one topic rather than another is a political decision.
The religious leader has the obligation to decide what topic to discuss out of all possible topics. For instance, when a pastor focuses on individual suffering or individual happiness in his sermons, he has chosen not to discuss the needs of the community and of others like the immigrant. Any time that a Bible verse or story is interpreted in present day decisions are made about what it means to us now.
And I guess this is the essence of religion… interpreting for yourself. Religious leaders have decided to try to lead people in their interpretations, and then it is up to the people to decide what to do with that interpretation. Religion and politics are always mixed, even if it’s not as obvious as it was last night.
For what it’s worth, I very much agree with the interpretation put forth by Annunciation House last night. If Christians accept that they are all brothers and sisters of God, then national borders should not matter when thinking about human rights and human dignity. Families are being separated, workers are being exploited, asylum seekers are being detained and lied to, and we are refusing to see how US policies are at work in any of this, ranging from NAFTA to our support for the “war on drugs” in Mexico.
I do believe that immigrants from our neighboring countries are being vastly mistreated. I decided that from an intellectual/human rights perspective. Others may decide that from a religious perspective. But what’s important to me is that I am part of a community that is actively and publicly working towards trying to establish a better system for our neighbors…
After all this deep thinking I took the last few minutes to enjoy the precious and beautiful moments I was witnessing:
from the dancers in beautiful costumes
to the little boy whose family was nice enough to give him a drum,
to the news camera that was there to capture the event
and then of course the cookies and snacks to be enjoyed by all afterwards!