In late May, Pope Benedict XVI spent some time chatting via video feed with astronauts at the International Space Station, including the crew of the U.S. space shuttle Endeavor.
His first question was to Endeavor’s Capt. Mark Kelly. It focused on the absurdity of violence on earth, including the assassination attempt in January on Kelly’s wife, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
“From the Space Station you have a very different view of the Earth,” the pontiff said. “You fly over different continents and nations several times a day. I think it must be obvious to you how we all live together on one Earth and how absurd it is that we fight and kill each other. ... When you are contemplating the Earth from up there, do you ever wonder about the way nations and people live together down here?”
“It’s a very good question,” Kelly replied. “We fly over most of the world and you don’t see borders, but at the same time we realize that people fight with each other and there is a lot of violence in this world.”
Though the two were talking about warfare and violence (and how science can help alleviate some of the regional tensions over energy resources) that perspective of earth from space — “you don’t see borders” — is equally useful context for the ever-controversial debate over immigration in this country, even among well-intentioned, intelligent and informed Catholics.
To be clear: We’re not envisioning some sort of imposed, borderless, global world order or the renunciation of cultural traditions, national differences or culinary or linguistic uniqueness of expression — none of which can be seen from space, either.
But especially in America, where even our poetic tradition teaches us that good fences make good neighbors, Christians have to fight the temptation to wall up their souls against the outsider, the foreigner, the one not like us.
From God’s perspective — one we, too, are called to develop through prayer and the sacraments — every single human being on the globe and throughout time is son and daughter, brother and sister. Loving service to the “least of these” is the only requirement Christ demands for entrance into eternal life.
That’s the baseline for Catholics — and our political leadership — as they grapple with the very real challenges of illegal immigration, which in some areas include an increase in drug and gang violence, drunk driving fatalities, a strain on social services that forces the closures of hospitals and other institutions, among a host of other ills.
Equally strong, however, ought also to be the recognition that our immigration policies are flawed and unsustainable. Not only is there a certain hypocrisy in, as some advocates note, simultaneously holding up “border closed” and “help wanted” signs, there’s often too little recognition that our policies have caused undeserved and real human pain.
Responding to President Barack Obama’s immigration speech in El Paso, Texas, last month, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gómez, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, urged the president and Congress not to delay in enacting immigration reform.
“Our current policies are breaking up families in the name of enforcing our laws,” he said. “That should not be. We should be reuniting and strengthening families — not separating wives from husbands and children from their parents.”
The issues are complex and the solutions won’t be easy. But the only proper perspective to move forward is recognition of the universal brotherhood of humanity.
Like the view of earth from space.