It's about welcoming the stranger

by Maureen Fiedler

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I'm not British. I have no personal stake in the stunning vote by Britons to leave the European Union. But when I woke up this morning and heard the news on NPR, I found myself deeply saddened by that United Kingdom vote.

Part of my feeling is because I've always seen the European Union as a body that has spoken to the world, saying, "We can transcend historic differences. Union is possible." Europe is a continent that was ravaged by World War II, but came together to form a new economic, and -- to some extent -- political, union. I am sad to see what may be the first sign of disintegration. Even as I write this, some are predicting that other EU nations will want to hold similar referenda.

But why the British vote? As I peruse various analyses, I realize that there are many reasons why it turned out this way, including many economic reasons. But one major motivation may be larger than many analysts are letting on: the flow of refugees and immigrants. According to The New York Times' analysis the morning after the vote, " ... far-right populist leaders have stoked public anxieties and resurgent nationalism by lashing out against immigrants. ..."

According to Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post, "At the heart of the "leave" campaign -- particularly in the final days leading up to the vote -- was an emphasis on the idea that the EU, which is based in Brussels, had okayed massive levels of migration into Britain. That mass migration had, according to 'leave' backers, fundamentally altered the identity of Britain in ways that were almost uniformly negative."

And then there were the approving words of one Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who happened to be visiting Great Britain (specifically, his golf courses in Scotland). After the vote, he said, "Basically, they took back their country. ... That's a good thing."

Trump, too, has preached fear of immigrants, threatening to build a wall on our southern border and to deport 11 million undocumented residents of the United States. He has said he would violate basic religious freedom that is a bedrock American value and ban Muslims from coming to the United States. It's a message that resonates -- unfortunately -- with a significant sector of the U.S. population.

And yet, where are our religious leaders? Indeed, when will the Catholic bishops highlight Catholic social teaching on this question? When will they preach strongly that "welcoming the stranger," is the call of the Scriptures? And do it in a way that attracts media attention? And perhaps speak out in concert with interfaith leaders who share these values?

"Welcoming the stranger" is not an obscure message in the Bible; it's a core value. Just a quick review of some of the Judeo/Christian teachings on this question:

Deuteronomy 10:19 -- You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:34 -- The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am your God.

Hebrews 13:1 -- Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Colossians 3:11 -- In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

Matthew 25:35 -- I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

And now, I pray for the British people, almost half of whom did not vote for this outcome, and for the young Britons who wanted to remain in the EU. Peace be upon you as you sort out the future.

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