WASHINGTON, DC - There have been many news articles reporting the overwhelmingly positive response to the upcoming trip of Pope Francis to the United States and his impact on Catholics and others during his short tenure. Unfortunately, some politicians, including some running for the Presidency, are not happy when Pope Francis’ comments touch on an area they consider politics, not religion. I urge everyone to give Pope Francis a great big ”abrazo” and a warm welcome to our land and into our lives.
This humble man has touched the depths of many a heart and has called forth the very best in all of us for the common good of humanity and the earth. He sees into the dignity of each one of us and envisions the possibilities when we break out of our selfishness and into out self-givingness.
My husband and I have two teenagers who have never known a night without food, shelter or the comforting web of a large extended family. Our daughter said “I’ll never take anything for granted again,” after we took a mission trip to Guatemala with an amazing organization called Unbound through which we sponsor three young children, Veronica, Juan Carlos and Eddie.
In one week, we traveled to many villages where Unbound supports projects to teach adults how to start small sustainable businesses to raise their families out of poverty. We visited the homes of families crowded into small one-room cinder block structures with leaking tin roofs, dirt floors, no running water or sanitation and only a fire pit for cooking. We met children with no shoes and yesteryear’s clothes, many of whom attend school only because someone like us pays a small sum each month to cover the cost of clothing and school supplies. They live on a monthly income of less than $100. We learned how years of civil war and the killing of clergy and others who spoke out against their government’s actions have left an indelible stain on the lives of these poor people.
When I hear Donald Trump and other Presidential candidates spouting promises to send all the immigrants and their U.S. born children back to their countries—only those from south of our border, I note—I wish they would open their hearts to Pope Francis’ message of tenderness and love and remember that the United States is a country that has historically reached out its hand to newcomers—even to Mr. Trump’s ancestors. I wish Mr. Trump would join us on a mission trip to one of the poor countries around the world where Unbound has programs.
The people we met were lovely and hard-working, not criminals or rapists. They welcomed us into their villages and homes as if we were visiting royalty. They were thankful for the meager amounts we send them each month. They were desperate to make a better life for their children and they work very hard to lift their families out of poverty. Given the precariousness of life in their country, we could understand why they would try to come to the United States, legally or illegally.
Visiting a poor country like Guatemala helps us get to the heart of the question of who is really helping whom in this world. On our mission trip, we realized that our lives are interwoven and tied to this one earth, this one human family. Pope Francis says it well: “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.” ~Evangelii Gaudium, (No. 229)
Mr. Trump, I invite you to open your heart to Pope Francis when he visits our country. Even better, why not sponsor a child and join a mission trip through Unbound, www.unbound.org, an international nonprofit founded by lay Catholics grounded in the Gospel call to put the needs of the marginalized and vulnerable first. Through Unbound, you might be able to build relationships of mutual respect and support that bridge cultural, religious and economic divides. This is what Pope Francis is calling us all to do.
Mary Anne Gibbons