Twin Cities archbishop decries treatment of U.S. border refugees

Archbishop Bernard Hebda on Sunday called on Christians to protect immigrants and refugees “who find themselves in strange lands.” His homily came on the Catholic Church’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
Churchgoers from at least 11 different ethnic backgrounds attended a Mass of Solidarity with immigrants and refugees on Sept. 29, 2019, in downtown Minneapolis. Joey Peters | Sahan Journal

Twin Cities Archbishop Bernard Hebda on Sunday implored Catholics and Christians to protect immigrants and refugees “who find themselves in strange lands.”

 

“How can it be that we allow for people to be treated inhumanely at the border?” Hebda said during a homily delivered at the Basilica of St. Mary. “How is it that we can be unfair to the needs of people who feel afraid because they don’t have the right accents?” 

 

His words came as part of a “Mass of Solidarity” held to celebrate the Catholic Church’s 105th annual World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

 

Several hundred churchgoers from at least 11 different ethnic backgrounds gathered for the mass, which was dedicated to supporting immigrants and refugees.

 

“We’re bringing together Catholics from a multiplicity of ethnic backgrounds,” Johan van Parys, the basilica’s director of liturgy and sacred arts, told Sahan Journal. “They are here in their native dress. We will sing their music. We will hear readings in their languages.”

 

Though the Catholic Church has been holding the World Day of Migrants and Refugees for more than a century, this is the second year St. Mary’s hosted a mass to celebrate it. 

 

Van Parys emphasized how much of the Church’s current message focuses on combating backlash against immigrants and refugees around the world and at home. This message, he added, is “a very good antidote to what is going on generally in this country and this world.” 

 

The Gospels implore Christians to love all of their neighbors, not just their white neighbors, Van Parys said. 

 

“Our parish is a parish of immigrants,” he continued. “It started with Irish and Italian immigrants, and today we have immigrants from all over the world, which makes it such a rich parish.” 

 

Several ethnic groups were represented during the Mass. 

 

Before Mass began, Aztlan dancers greeted churchgoers with a traditional indigenous Mexan dance on the outdoor steps of the Basilica. Inside, Dakota soloist Joseph Bester performed the traditional Four Directions song as the call to worship. A pan-African choir group sang hymns throughout the ceremony. 

 

Various languages were used throughout the readings and prayers during the liturgy, including Hmong, Karenni, Spanish, French, Swahili and Vietnamese.

 

Hebda, who leads the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and presided over Sunday’s Mass, urged the congregants to “be aware of those who are on the peripheral” and “those who are away from their homes.” 

 

Pope Francis, Hebda emphasized, is convinced that God protects all immigrants and refugees “who find themselves in strange lands.” Hebda urged his followers to “innovate like the Lord” and “be attentive to the needs of our brothers and sisters.” 

 

He praised the fact that many different ethnic groups were represented at the Mass and implored all Catholics to “appreciate the culture and traditions that they bring.” 

 

“Beyond the Catholic community, we know we are enriched by the presence of those who seek to be able to live in a way that sustains their families,” he said. 

 

This year’s Mass of Solidarity showcased more ethnic traditions than last year, van Parys added. He and others are planning for the trend to continue. 

 

“As this grows year by year, I think it will be bigger and bigger,” van Parys said. 

Joey Peters is a contributing reporter for Sahan Journal. His work has appeared in Reuters, Public Radio International, Columbia Journalism Review, KFAI Radio, the Pioneer Press, City Pages, MinnPost and more. He previously served as staff writer for the Santa Fe Reporter and senior reporter for NM Political Report, both based in New Mexico.

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