By Helen Penberthy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
- The little girl shyly smiling and clutching her stuffed rabbit.
- The pre-teen passing the bowl of soup to a younger child, content to wait for another.
- The mother satisfied with one pair of pants for her child, declining to take a second pair.
- The people—tired, surely frightened—standing quietly in line for food, for clothes, for help contacting their relatives.
These are not bad people; these are not threatening people; these are not dangerous people.
These are our brothers and sisters; these are creatures made in God’s image; these are people who have the same hopes and dreams as you or I have.
These are recent migrants to the United States, spending a few days at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, after being detained for one to two weeks in the custody of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). The respite center is run by Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
I spent a week in McAllen last month with the Mercy Border Witness Program. ARISE, a Mercy-sponsored ministry in McAllen, led the delegation, sharing the experiences and homes of many of their staff and clients with us. ARISE also coordinated visits to the respite center, to sections of the existing wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and to meet with groups working on immigrant rights and studying the immigrant experience. We also visited with a member of the Border Patrol and toured a center housing unaccompanied minors.
As Christians, we are called to welcome the stranger. As Christians, we are called to take care of the least of our brothers and sisters. As Christians, we are called to offer the stranger our own cloak.
To be empathetic, you have to think beyond yourself and your own concerns.
What did I learn on this trip? We can—and should—debate how best to “secure our borders” and what is a “just immigration system,” but we cannot ignore the suffering at the border as we struggle with these debates. We cannot continue to increase the suffering of people already battling threats that most Americans cannot even imagine.
Empathy is the link between self and others. How can we not feel their pain and desperation? How can we not help?
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