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Homily at Mass given outside the Northwest Detention Center near Tacoma, Washington,

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Leviticus 19:33-34
Matthew 25:31-40

By Jesuit Fr. Scott Santarosa

Today we gather as people of faith. We do not gather as Democrats. We do not gather as

Republicans. We gather as Christians, in the name of Jesus. We gather today outside the
Northwest Detention Center here in Tacoma on a Saturday because of our faith, and we speak
from our faith.

The readings today remind us of our faith, of what we believe.

The first reading from the Book of Leviticus reminds us as Christians of our own history as
immigrants, as refugees, as aliens. Our ancestors in the faith, the Hebrew people, were uprooted
from their own land. The story of Israelites as a unified people began in Egypt, under a covenant
with the God of Israel. Under the leadership of Moses and then Joshua, they escaped slavery and
came into the promised land. There they flourished only to be exiled some 500 years later into
Babylon, people deported for some 50 years. As we stand here today, the faith we share as
expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, is one forged in exile, on the move, by a
people always seeking safety and rest and the promised land. Today we are reminded in the book
of Leviticus: "You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born
among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you, too, were once aliens in the land of

This is us.

This is why we are here today. We pray here outside the walls of this detention center because, if
truth be told, we share much more with those locked inside these walls than most people would
think. We were once aliens, refugees, immigrants, displaced.

And our Gospel, from Matthew, calls us to be the people we want to be. Jesus tells the story of
the Son of Man who comes in his glory, he assembles all people, and he says to the unknowing
righteous people, "Come you who were blessed by my Father. Inherit the Kingdom prepared for

For I was hungry and you gave me food,

I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
A stranger and you welcomed me,
Desnudo y me vistieron,
Enfermo y me visitaron,
En la cárcel y vinieron a verme."

Y los justos les responderán, "Senor, cuando te vimos asi?"

The righteous will respond, "Lord when did we see you hungry, and thirsty, and naked, or a
stranger or ill or in prison and attend to you, and visit you?" They ask this question completely
unaware of what they have done or for whom.

And he says, as long as you did it for one of my least ones, you did it for me,"

"Cuanto hicieron a uno de esos mis hermanos mas pequeños, a mi me lo hicieron."

These righteous people were so used to doing the right thing, the good thing, the just thing,
especially for the little people, "los pequeños," the least, that they didn't even notice. They had to
be reminded. They are surprised. For when they encountered the hungry, the thirsty, the naked,
the displaced, the sick and imprisoned, they did not ask questions like,

"What can these people do for me?

How can they help our economy?
Do they have a right to my time and attention?
What do I really owe them?"

Instead, something inside their fleshy and not stony hearts was moved. They perhaps
remembered their own heritage as displaced people and asked the simple question,

"What would I want to be done for me?

How would God treat them?
How would God, who has been so incredibly good to me, want me to treat them?"

And instinctually they helped them, attended to them, visited them. This is what we hope for. We
hope to be people of instinctual love and mercy, with hearts that are not contractual, not quid pro
quo, not stony and hard and cold. But hearts that are soft, and fleshy, and tender, and big, and
merciful and loving. This is what we hope for. To be people with the heart of Jesus.

This is why we stand here today.

It goes without saying that the separation of families is completely unacceptable and
unconscionable if we have the heart of Jesus. And so we stand in solidarity with those 170
people inside these walls who just two days ago finished their own hunger strike in protest of the
U.S. detention policies which separate families. There is no room in the heart of Jesus for such
policies, for such "deterrents."
Finally, we gather here because we hope in our very gathering we provide a glimpse of the world
the way God imagines it to be, for that is what good liturgy does — provides us all a taste of the
kind of world we long for.

I recall in 2013 as we were leaving the steps of City Hall in Los Angeles, just having finished a
rally of some 1,000 people, with key city and state politicians present, and over 50 clergy on the
stage. As we boarded buses to return to Dolores Mission Parish, I ran into one of our faithful
parishioners, Gabriel. He was ecstatic with joy. An undocumented man himself, he looked at me,
excitement in his eyes and voice, and said, "Padre, con tanta gente aqui, tantos políticos, tantos
cleros y religiosos, con tanta gente hablando a favor de nosotros, yo siento como que ya tengo
mis papeles." ("Father, with so many people here — politicians, clergy, religious — so many
people speaking on our behalf I feel as if I am already a citizen.") Gabriel felt the worth of his
humanity, that he was valued and appreciated. That he belonged. He felt a part of the family of
Angelinos, a contributor to the life of the city. In that gathering we created the world of welcome
and compassion and hope that we long for.

May this same gathering do that for us, and may all of the liturgies at St. Joseph's, and St. Leo's
and all Catholic parishes do just that — make all people feel like full and complete members of
our family of faith. That is our hope, and that is my charge as provincial of Jesuits West: May we
bridge all divides, and foster understanding among diverse peoples and cultures, and make
people feel in the most real way at home. Brothers and sisters, all of us, children of God. This is
who we are. All of us.