From “Throwaway” to “Encounter”: A Call to Conversion

From “Throwaway” to “Encounter”: A Call to Conversion July 15, 2014

In the recent opening session of the “Mexico/Holy See Colloquium on Migration and Development”, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, read a message from Pope Francis as well as addressing the colloquium himself.  Both spoke of the need for a cultural conversion, and both specifically mentioned the United States and the particular vulnerability of the waves of children crossing its border.  Their messages are both prophetic and nuanced, not dismissing rule of law but balancing the need for just and life-affirming public policies as well as deeper conversion, reminding us with a moral authority no policy-maker can claim that the fundamental issue from a Christian perspective is one of human dignity.

From the Holy Father’s message:

Globalisation is a phenomenon that challenges us, especially in one of its principal manifestations which is emigration. It is one of the ‘signs’ of this time that we live in and that brings us back to the words of Jesus, ‘Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?’. Despite the large influx of migrants present in all continents and in almost all countries, migration is still seen as an emergency, or as a circumstantial and sporadic fact, while instead it has now become a hallmark of our society and a challenge.

It is a phenomenon that carries with it great promise and many challenges. Many people forced to emigrate suffer, and often, die tragically; many of their rights are violated, they are obliged to separate from their families and, unfortunately, continue to be the subject of racist and xenophobic attitudes.

Faced with this situation, I repeat what I have affirmed in this year’s Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees: ‘A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalisation – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world.’

And similar themes from Cardinal Parolin:

In a radical way, Christianity has stated from the very beginning that we are all free, we are all equal, we are all brothers. As a result, the dignity of the person derives not from their economic situation, political affiliation, level of education, immigration status or religious belief. Every human being, for the very fact of being a person, possesses a dignity that deserves to be treated with the utmost respect….

It is clear that the phenomenon of migration cannot be resolved solely by legislative measures or by adopting public policies, good though they may be, and far less so solely through the deployment of the forces of security and order. The solution to the problem of migration requires a profound cultural and social conversion that enables a closed culture to transform into a ‘culture of welcome and encounter’.

In this context, the Church has always been, and will continue to be, a loyal collaborator. … By definition, being Catholic means being universal and transnational. Its message is not confined to the private lives of the faithful, but instead seeks conversion, expanding and reaching towards paths of culture and social justice, since it is not possible to define oneself as Christian and then turn one’s back on justice and fraternity, also with non-believers.

In a social atmosphere where nearly every human problem becomes politically charged and obscured by the constant temptation to divide and dichotomize full solutions, we need this reminder, spoken from the particularly catholic perspective of our “universal and transnational” Church, of the reverence for all human life and dignity – especially where vulnerable – that is at the heart of our faith.

May we be converted to such reverence, to become leaven for a broader social conversion.

"I knew a painter who said that Titian was the greatest painter of all time. ..."

Scattering Blossoms, Fallen Leaves: Titian in ..."
"How jaded must I be to feel the words of bishops against any atrocity today ..."

US Bishops Speak on Gun Violence
"I was also thinking of a song I heard, and in fact misheard, in childhood, ..."

The Church is not an Army, ..."
"I can actually see this text being read in two very opposite ways. Unfortunately it ..."

The Church is not an Army, ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • bill bannon

    Your piece is missing the Catholic elephant in the living room ignored by Popes and Bishops: how did Catholic countries left by Inquisitional Spain become some of the most criminal countries on earth as to drug dealing, governmental corruption and insane kidnapping problems that are forcing affluent Mexicans to get E and L business visas in order to themselves flee Catholic countries into the largely non Catholic US? Yes the US has drug users which are the passive aggressive part of the problem. But Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, and Columbia are the active aggressive, largest in the world cocaine drug dealers who transship through Central America which has the two worst murder rate countries on earth by UN figures…Honduras and El Salvador with Guatemala not far behind with a 4% arrest record for murderers (the US is 62% to give context).
    To the non Catholic in the US, this silence of the Bishops and Pope on this bizarre Catholic culture problem that is broached by no one in Catholicism must itself be bizarre. Mexico according to the World Bank is an upper middle income country. Why are those Catholics not only not helping the Central Americans to live in Mexico but are facilitating their exodus through them into the US with way stations for food? Well…the affluent Mexican often wants to move here himself. In the following link are two brothers from Mexico who moved here after cartels left a funeral wreath on their doorstep with the name of one’s youngest daughter. Two other affluent Mexicans moved to the US after each had his foot cut off in kidnapping episodes…one man went catatonic after it but his family came with him to the US under business visas.
    Solution: Mexico and Central America should submit a request to be part of the US and gradually with the help of our army, the one hundred thousand cartel members in Mexico could be really incarcerated or shot in the process. Go to youtube and type in: Mexican prison murder. You will see cartel members frighten all personnel in a large Mexican prison into giving them a cell key where they then machine gun rival gang members with impunity. A justice official there said 60% of Mexican prisons are under such cartel control. That is not a real country nor are Honduras and El Salvador. They need to apply to be US states. The Bishops and Pope need to admit that Catholic culture post Spain and largely because of Spain is a train wreck.
    Pope Nicholas V was the root of the problem when he gave Portugal the right to despoil natives who resisted the gospel and enslave them perpetually …which Pope Alexander VI repeated for Spain according to John Noonan Jr. in “The Church That Can and Cannot Change”. You can blame those two Popes if you’re ever mugged in Rio or Bogota…and you won’t be far from the mark.

    • Julia Smucker

      So … Hispanic culture is a train wreck which is the fault of the Catholic Church?

      These sentiments sound eerily similar to the kind of nativism directed against immigrants from Catholic-majority countries in Europe about two centuries ago.

      I don’t even want to comment on your outrageous “solution”, but I do want to comment on the travel agent’s quote at the end of the article you link to:

      “The people who are doing it are people who can afford it. These people are bringing businesses. They shop like crazy. They buy homes. They buy cars. People with money and education are coming here to make their new life. That is something worth talking about.”

      The disturbing implication there is that people without money and education coming to make a new life are not worth talking about, or in other words, that only wealthy or affluent immigrants have value as human beings – or rather, they are valued not for their humanity but for their business. Judging the worth of human lives based on their commercial value is dehumanizing even for those who make the grade, not to mention those who don’t. The Church’s leadership reminds us that this must NEVER be our standard as Christians, based on the universality of the Church and more broadly of the imago Dei. The bishops in particular speak from their experience of the migrant situation as a deeply pastoral issue.

      Whatever critiques we make, we must never lose sight of anyone’s humanity and the intrinsic value that goes with it. THAT is our standard, and that’s what should always orient our approach to the stranger in our midst.

    • Mark VA

      Mr. Bannon, you wrote:

      “The Bishops and Pope need to admit that Catholic culture post Spain and largely because of Spain is a train wreck.”

      I think that upon reflection you’ll notice you are painting with a very broad brush. Your lens is not global, nor will your statement stand up to historical scrutiny.

      However, I do agree with you that the Vatican should address the American (North and South) drug issue, and the trail of violence and wreckage it creates, more forcefully and comprehensively. On the consumer end of this pipe line, the Protestant Churches should join with the Vatican, to create a greater impact.

      I completely agree with Julia that the Catholic response to the situation at our south border should be one of informed compassion. From what I’ve seen, both the local Church (Rio Grande Valley (RGV), Diocese of Brownsville, Texas) and the Border Patrol, are responding to this unprecedented and overwhelming situation with utmost care and compassion – we should be very proud of them.

      I believe that after the immediate needs of these children and adults are taken care of, there will be enough time to decide what to do next, and to get better informed about the true causes of this situation.

  • Bravo Julia for picking up and relaying these remarks of the Holy Father. Indeed, these ongoing emigration crisis are repeating themselves often throughout the world. Thus I agree, they are a ‘sign of the times’. Are Catholics oblivious to the plight of the Holy Family in the early years. Leaving Nazareth pregnant to go to another region to fulfill the requirements of a census. Giving birth in a cave or manger and then having to flee the nation in fear of death and entering Egypt for safety while all the young boys of Bethlehem are slaughtered. Finally returning to Nazareth to take up a more peaceful existence. What a luxury it would have seemed for the Holy Family to remain comfortably in their hometown with love and support from their community…but it didn’t happen that way for the Son of God. Do you think the Blessed Mother pays attention to the prayers of today’s ‘illegals’? What must she think of people waiving the American flag and shouting ‘go home’ to her children? Conversion is certainly the watchword.

    • Julia Smucker

      Amen and amen. When I was living in a border city, I wore a crucifix to a few immigration-related events to illustrate that very connection: our Lord himself lived as an alien and even a refugee.

  • bill bannon

    Let me introduce you to Pope Nicholas V in Romanus Pontifex where he sets in motion the rich poor disparity that obtains til this day…mid 4th large par. granting to King Alphonsus again the perpetual right to:

    — to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit —

    • Julia Smucker

      So who exactly is defending this? Or do you mean to use the sins committed against those colonized by Spain as some sort of argument for demonizing their modern descendants?

      • bill bannon

        No one’s defending it. But the Bishops are oblivious to it as is the Pope since they are implicitly seeing the largely non Catholic US (not upper middle income Catholic Mexico) as the sole solution to a mess begun by a Pope. The Vatican is said to have stock investments of about one billion dollars. Errr…do you think they might have a little fiscal responsibility in a human disaster for which they ultimately wrote the permission slip. Romanus Pontifex not only gave Iberia a pass for the slave trade of 400 years but it told the conquistadors that taking indigenous land and making large plantations for themselves while relegating the poor to the worst lands was Godly. The US by the way repeated that conquistador value system in the Guatemala case via the United Fruit Company…and the CIA involvement in overthrowing Arbenz who made the fatal mistake of buying Soviet arms in 1952 etc.

        • Julia Smucker

          I am not familiar with “Romanus Pontifex” but from your quote above it is deeply misguided and downright sinful, as church teaching has since made explicitly clear. I have a hard time seeing how you get from there to taking issue with the pope and bishops reminding us to respect the humanity of immigrants. I’m getting really confused about what you’re trying to argue here.

        • “I’m getting really confused about what you’re trying to argue here.”

          In my opinion, nothing’s being argued here…It’s a run of the mill diatribe…

        • Mark VA

          Mr. Bannon:

          I dislike hagiography and its polar opposite equally, since both are distortions. For example, with respect to Spanish history, there were (and still are, to some extent) such things as distorting legends, that clearly furthered the propaganda interests of Spain’s rivals:

          Additionally, I’m skeptical of simplified and all-encomassing explanations of long historical processes, especially when such explanations are based on single “source” documents or events. They often miss the fact that long historical trajectories (such as slavery in the Americas) are subject to many influences – cross, head, and tail winds.

  • bill bannon

    You’re confused because you don’t see history as ever present in its results. Read the Noonan book someday. The Popes after Nicholas V according to Noonan only seemed to attack slavery as thoroughly as we imagine…which slavery persisted after Paul III’s 1520 seeming condemnation. But the Catholic Universities continued til the 20th century to make exceptions for legitimacy of slavery which exceptions no Pope stopped. “Captured in a just war” was one such exception and Portugal played it like a grand piano since she bought slaves from inter tribal captures after African wars. Criminality in central America is the child of the land system of the conquistadors of Romanus Pontifex. The land abused poor become the physical abusers. The murder rate for Central America is 31.1 per 100,000. The murder rate for all of East Asia is 1.1 per 100,000. with over a half billion poor people there. The baptised poor post Spain are murdering 30 times more than the largely unbaptised poor of China, Mongolia etc. But the Phillipines where Spain bullied also has a 8.1 per 100,000 murder rate.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Bill Bannon writes:

    “Mexico according to the World Bank is an upper middle income country.”

    True, but misleading. Mexico’s per capital national income is approximately $9,900, while that of the US is more than $53,000. Saying that Mexico is upper middle income tells us more about how desperately poor some nations are and not how rich Mexico is.

    Mexico can and should do more to stop the abuse of Central American immigrants crossing their territory. But to suggest that Mexico should bear the weight of responsibility for them, when hundreds of thousands of its own citizens are so poor that they have also tried to flee to the United States, is to focus on the speck in their eye and ignore the beam in our own.

    • bill bannon

      We simply don’t know what $53K or $9k means unless we know how many millionaires and how many radical poor in a given country are distorting the average. And the US has many millionaires distorting the average and Mexico less so. The US has millions of elderly living on little more than $16K a year from social security…especially women after their husband passes but men also if they worked without pension in small private businesses. The US has many who distort the average and we have millions of public school teachers, police and government bureaucrats who distort the average especially when they and police retire with large pensions in old age while others from private industry (small not large) have no pension. I doubt that Mexico has as many retiring at 3/4 of a normal salary. We have train conductors in NYC averaging 87k a year largely because of their ability to bring down the economy of NY if they strike. We have women in shelters with children working two jobs at the fast food places. Brazil as per your other post will I suspect have people living in slums near high rises for a very long time to come while their economy seems very tethered to China needing their natural resources.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        It shows what I think should be clear to any unbiased observer: the US is much, much richer than Mexico. To argue otherwise is to depart from reality.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Bill Bannon wrote:

    “The US by the way repeated that conquistador value system in the Guatemala case via the United Fruit Company”

    This fact really does gut your whole argument. An encyclical written 500 years ago bears full responsibility for the current mess in Central America, but the past 150 year history of colonialist and economic imperialist exploitation by Britian and the United States deserves only a casual mention. Pontifex Maximus was directly aimed at Portuguese conquests and colonies and with its discovery was applied to Brazil in the 16th century. Brazil went through some awful times but is now an emerging democracy and industrial power. So can the Catholic Church take credit for this, since it arises out of the same historical forces that created modern Central America?

    I think this discussion would be much better served if we skipped the simplistic, reductionist arguments that explain very little.

    • bill bannon

      Romanus Pontifex (not Maximus) was written for Portugal by Nicholas V in 1454 and endorsed by three subsequent Popes but more importantly its permissions to despoil and enslave were reiterated for Spain by Pope Alexander VI in 1494 who also helped divide the New World by treaty between Spain and Portugal. Ergo all of the Catholic continent was affected by it not simply Brazil. It established the template for all Latin America of the rulers/rich holding the best land while leaving the worst for the poor as in Guatemala or the rich taking all the silver of Pitosi as in Peru. The Mexican Revolution undid only some of that privilege in terms of land.

  • Julia Smucker

    To try to get us back to the magisterial call to conversion, two questions for Bill Bannon (and for general consideration, if you will):

    1) Whoever is historically responsible for the present injustices prompting the latest migration waves, what is the Christian moral duty now in response to this situation?

    2) What is the lens through which you are seeing the first question? Is it something other than human dignity?

    • bill bannon

      I’ll get on your track rather than mine…mostly. The US should help all real Honduran children (but they won’t because we spent billions on the black ghetto and destroyed the black family thereby which family was more intact prior to welfare in the 50’s) …help all Honduran children excluding older teen males who may be using the crisis to come covertly for MS13 who were deported en masse years ago. And I say this even though the editor of the Atlantic this week pointed out that the poorest of the poor are not leaving Honduras….the poorest could never raise a coyote fee. Mexico is different. To the extent that a given Mexican person is a net tax burden on our own elderly poor via their property taxes for education (often 50% of property taxes), the US should help them and bill Mexico which has 12 legit billionaires with a net worth of $136.1 billion dollars.
      As Marco Rubio of Florida has pointed out, Honduras gets 13% of their GDP from US immigrants sending money back from here. If they had any kind of budget surplus, they would not have the highest murder rate on earth because they’d have more police…ergo one ought not to bill them. Mexico however is a leading supplier of oil and silver….so the money is somewhere in Mexico. The US Bishops will never talk billing Mexico because they are imaging as being above money…so is the Pope. And they are above money because they costs us 2 billion dollars in sex abuse liabilities and they never said …sorry. They could care less about a USA eighty year old’s property taxes if it interferes with their higher Christology image as being above all money worries and totally third world. My own Bishop in NJ is way above money….with a double mansion on 8 acres for retirement with two swimming pools no where’s near the people of Newark…and his assistant Bishop defends it despite Vat.II demanding that Bishops live modestly and open their homes to the poor. Lol…I might drive some folks to the pool one day.

      • Julia Smucker

        Did you answer either question?

        • bill bannon


          • Julia Smucker

            Must have gotten buried then, but never mind. I’ll take my cues from the likes of Pope Francis and Cardinal Parolin, who provide much more coherent (not to mention morally authoritative) answers to the above questions.

      • LM

        What exactly are these “billions of dollars” that are being spent in the black ghetto? It’s not welfare, since Clinton ended direct payments in 1996, and even SNAP has been drastically cut back in recent years. This country spends more on farm subsidies and stealth bombers than it does on the welfare of its citizens, regardless of race. If you really care about the state of the black family (and I don’t think you do) you would mention the lack of jobs that pay a living wage and the continuing effects of residential segregation, as well as the creeping re-segregation of our educational system.

        • bill bannon

          Do not read hearts based on the left/right ideologies. I took care of a already Catholic black child in person for four years on a murderous block of Newark near Bergen St. which is still murderous and put her in Catholic school and paid her Catholic school tuition; bought her grandmother a washing machine so that the child would not have to wash clothes by hand which detracted from studies and I tutored her every school night for three of those years while my school peers were building careers and cheddar with their time. She was a prostitute’s daughter who lived with grandma who kidnapped her from the mother. They watched me each night to see that I made it to my car without getting mugged as a white person because Chadwick St. after dark was and is pure danger.
          I took her and her twin cousins to Mass each week and on beach and museum trips throughout the region with 4 other black children in my suburban while two of their fathers dealt heroin right in proximity to my care of them.
          One night I thought five of that crew would kill me when I opened the door on their splitting up heroin…I calmed them in time and an abbot of a contemplative monastery told me not to turn them in to police because I would be killed and they’d be replaced quickly on the street after trial and I was doing too much good in a bad place for three black girls especially. After four years the girl I supported was taken over by a radical black muslim aunt who told all the family that I was created by the devil yacoo since I was white. And you announce that I don’t care for the black family after I paid big prices of the heart in God’s eyes. Think about it prior to doing it to the next person who says things you don’t like. I hold the poor countries responsible to a degree. That shouldn’t be new to you. Christ cured a man long sick and warned the poor man not to sin again lest something worse befall him. Christ upbraided NINE poor lepers who never thanked Him for the cure. Christ required things of the poor and modern Catholicism is not exactly like Christ in that area because we are imaging…imaging.. as being above even His actual attitudes.

  • Anne

    The US bishops would never talk about billing Mexico because it’s a ridiculous idea, and the US would never consider doing so anyway. Of course, if it did, and the Mexican government could actually find a way to make Mexican multi-billionaires pay its bills, I’m sure the US government would be very happy to find out how this is done.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO


    let’s turn back to your two questions. In my mind the answer to number (1) is clear: we must, as Christians, feed, house and clothe these children. They are Christ in our midst in the distressing guise of the poor as Mother Theresa used to put it.

    The bigger question is how to respond in the long term because this question is going away. Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are desperately poor, heavily overpopulated (in comparison to what their economies can support) and have disproportionately large populations under age 30. What can the US do to improve the lot of these countries. We must do something: As St. John Chrysotom said, the coat (many coats) hanging in our collective closets that we do not wear were stolen from the poor and must be returned. But it is not clear what is the best solution.

  • Anne

    Only a few short years ago, these would be questions discussed and debated seriously in Congress. Today, however, as we all know, a small group of legislators in the House has taken virtually the entire legislative branch of the federal government hostage and prevents it from doing virtually anything positive be it on immigration or anything else. The only avenue open for new action is an executive order, but the President is already being sued for having issued as many of these as he has up to now. So yes, these children should be taken care of by charitable organizations until they can be granted temporary immigration status or returned to their countries of origin, a course the President himself has said would be a cruel fate for many. But nothing, absolutely nothing, is going to get done in the long term until the American people end the stalemate in the US Congress by somehow, some way making it clear that all those who either lead or facilitate any further acts of obstruction in the House will be held accountable.

  • bill bannon

    The reality is they are being sent back as noted by articles like this:

    These mothers need donations from Catholics because they borrowed thousands to pay
    coyotes. Probably 20 million Catholics out of 60 million are attending Mass in the US. If the USCCB asked each Catholic from the pulpit to give one dollar just for indebted Central American moms, we could pay off their debt. Position statements by Bishops are nothing compared to their more effective role: they can collect millions in a month if they use each pulpit under their jurisdiction. Some of these moms might be killed as a result of these loans if you read numerous articles on this. The Church is not using it’s main power…millions of laity who would give a dollar for ad hoc causes which dollar becomes 20 mil because of our numbers. Position papers by Bishops are affecting nothing in this case. Money does affect lives indebted to thugs. Only the Bishops can collect great sums by this multiplier of people in the pews.