The Feast of the Epiphany is doubly special because it was on this feast that our congregation, the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic, was founded over a hundred years ago, in the year 1912. Thanks to the first three “wise women” of Maryknoll (as we call these pioneers), they dared follow their star that guided us through this incredible journey across continents. As you may know, our congregation was founded for foreign mission.
In the gospel selected for today, we see the three Magi following the Star into Bethlehem where they find Mary, Joseph, and their new-born child, Jesus. A family of lowly means, they are huddled in the only space available they could find. The tone is upbeat as we read:
[The Magi] … were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary, his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11)
This peaceful scene is short lived as the family must leave in haste to seek safety in Egypt as was the instruction received by Joseph in a dream. In that same night, they become, to borrow a modern term, refugees. They must travel a great distance through the desert over some rough terrain in possibly hostile environment. This is NOT UNLIKE the journey through the desert that the thousands of migrants and refugees—these “asylum seekers”— experience as they seek safety and, God willing, a new life across the border. They too, are driven by a will to choose life instead of facing an inevitable slow if not quick death…physically, mentally, emotionally, and before long, face a spiritual starvation and death. To stay in their homes and in their own land, therefore, is not an option. They must leave. But where?
When in the dark, look to the stars for direction. Trust in the promise:
Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of God shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the HOLY ONE shines, and over you appears the glory of God. (Isaiah 60:1-2)
Like the Magi who follow the star, the asylum seekers too must follow their own star hovering over them, trusting, believing, and moving forward and onward to what is life-giving. They must choose life, not death. They rise and go meet the One who comes, Jesus the Christ who gives them life.
Because of our familiarity with cross-cultural work overseas and living in a culturally diverse community ourselves, ministry to immigrants and refugees is not new to us. From the beginning, we made welcoming the stranger a priority, since as missioners, we are, in fact, the strangers in foreign lands. Hospitality is like a revolving door: the guest and the host take turns changing roles.
Pope Francis has spoken about the world-wide phenomenon of migration and the role that the churches, religious, and faith communities play in this important ministry of hospitality. He said at the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 2018:
“Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age. A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on everyone's part. Let's move away from a fearful and defensive attitude, from indifference and marginalization, towards a healthy attitude based on the culture of encounter.”
Our community has joined others in responding to the call for volunteers to serve at the US-Mexico border. I was part of a team of Maryknoll Sisters who worked at Casa Alitas Welcome Center, in Tucson, AZ. There at the border, we welcomed weary travelers from different nationalities, all seeking refuge in the United States.
One such traveler was a 9-year old boy from Guatemala in the company of his mother. He was carrying a stuffed toy. Sr. Joy and I took them to the airport at 4:00 AM that day.
They only had $20 in their possession which is not enough for a taxi fare let alone for food while en route to their destination. Just as they were getting out of the car, the mother handed me her $20 bill. “No,” I said, “use that for your trip.”
I accompanied them through the immigration and all the way to the gate. All smiles, the boy showed me his stuffed toy and said he sleeps with it at night in bed. They were both so grateful. Boarding time was finally announced, and I led mother and child to get in line. As we hugged and said our goodbyes, the boy suddenly raised his hand giving me his stuffed toy as a token of appreciation.
With tears welling up in my eyes, I suddenly remembered the story of the Little Drummer Boy who was summoned by the Magi to the place where Jesus was born. Without a gift to bring, he played his drum and sang:
I am a poor boy too. Pa rum pumpumpum.
I have no gifts to bring. Pa rum pumpumpum.
That's fit to give our king. Pa rum pumpumpum.
Shall I play for you? Pa rum pumpumpum.
Me and my drum?
Mary nodded. Pa rum pumpumpum.
Then he smiled at me. Pa rum pumpumpum.
Me and my drum.
As he was handing me his stuffed toy, I said, “No, no, that is for you to keep, so you sleep well at night.” I nodded approvingly at the boy’s generosity. He smiled and waved goodbye.
Genie Natividad, MM
Genie Natividad, MM
Sister Genie Natividad was born and raised in rural Philippines where she completed her elementary and high school education. With her mother as the sole provider following her father’s untimely passing, Genie’s college education was cut short and she sought employment overseas in order to supplement the family income. Upon her return, she joined the Augustinian Sisters of Our Lady of Consolation; and then, as a lay missioner with the Missionary Community of St. Paul the Apostle in Turkana, Kenya. Her continuing search brought her to the Maryknoll Sisters. She spent the next two years at their orientation house in Chicago where she divided her time studying at the Catholic Theological Union and ministering to the mentally challenged, and to young women and men at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. She then received her first Maryknoll mission assignment in 2009 and left for Tanzania in East Africa. There she studied the Kiswahili Language; team-taught religion at Kilakala Girls Secondary School; provided after school aid to children in Morogoro; worked with HIV/ AIDS adults groups in Mwanza; collaborated with a Maryknoll lay Missionary and an affiliate in establishing income generating projects for different women’s group; did trauma healing with orphans, abused kids and street children using Capacitar; and, taught foot Reflexology to women’s group. She returned to the Maryknoll Center New York in 2016 to serve as Coordinator of the Chi Rho (senior Sisters) Community for three years. She then enrolled in 2020 in a program on Holistic Health in Hawaii. Her most recent mission was in 2021, when she responded to the call for volunteers at the U.S. Mexico border providing aid to migrants. Genie was recently elected to serve in her congregation’s leadership team for the next six years.
The second of three volumes from the Catholic Women Preach project of FutureChurch offers homilies for each Sunday and holy days of the liturgical year by Catholic women from around the world. The first volume for Cycle A received awards for best book on Liturgy from both the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Catholic Media Association.
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