I open my reflection of this reading on the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time by sharing the key passages that most resonate with the past experiences, message today, and life lessons moving forward that not only resonate with me and my capacity to authentically exercise missionary discipleship and servant leadership, but with many people around the world who are struggling to grapple with doing so in today’s fraught Church and World.
“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”
“By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God.”
“All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth, for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.”
“For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. “
“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
I remember sitting in the United Nations General Assembly and thinking to myself; every Member State in this room has been entrusted with a great duty and accountability to the people they represent. And even more profound was the acknowledgement that all 193 Member States have willinglychosen peace and reconciliation, to avoid a repetition of war. They have chosen faith, expressed and labeled differently for all Member States and its people, but faith, nonetheless, fixated on the beautiful possibility of a peaceful world.
Yet, we have find ourselves consistently contradicting this as global citizens; when we are called in these passages to share our wealth with those in need and relinquish our possessions to provide for the needs of others, instead in our respective countries, many are getting by, day by day, while unbeknownst to them a great deal of suffering is occurring right beneath our eyes. By now we have all heard of the crisis at the southernmost border of the United States of America. Increasingly, we find the media, politicians, and people among ourselves dehumanizing undocumented immigrants, migrants, and refugees.
Every time we rob an undocumented immigrant, migrant, or refugee from their story, disconnect them from the political and civil conflict of their homeland, and the reasons why they were to force to leave their entire life behind, we dismiss our very calling from this passage; we ignore that their “faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” They do not know what or where they would achieve financial security or peace or safety, but they trusted and had faith that they could find it in the United States. Undocumented immigrants, migrants, and refugees have faith that they could attain all that is possible in the United States of America, or wherever else in the world they have bravely chosen to venture towards.
This passage calls us and challenges us to think about the concentration camps harboring immigrant families and children in unsafe and dangerous conditions after they’ve taken this brave step in their faith for a better tomorrow. In so doing, robbing them of their basic humanity, we punish faith instead of embracing the faithful. They have not received what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar indeed, even to those so fortunate to have made it across and in such proximity, no less.
Having served the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, the ethnically and culturally diverse students of Saint Peter’s University as their Student Government Association President, and currently working for the State of New Jersey as the State’s Cultural Commissions Coordinator, I am in awe at how many times these conversations were had or needed to be had; the space needed to be made and still continues to grow and develop in profound ways. This was especially true during my time with the Holy See Mission; I was assigned to the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration negotiations where Member States participated in discussing how to address global migration challenges; I was lucky enough to transcribe the notes for our Diplomat to then create the formal report of all six negotiations to be sent to the Vatican City State and Pope Francis. I have harrowing experiences just listening to the anti-migrant, anti-immigration discourse; an emphasis on homogeneity, tainted by misconstrued and misinformed understanding of the power of migrants and the migrant experience. The voice of reason in every negotiation, the Holy See Mission and our attaché, always communicated the best interests of children, the protection of human rights, and reminded Member States the importance of their duty eloquently and truthfully; by far one of the greatest witness to humanity serving humanity I’ve ever had. Indeed, “much is still to be required of the person entrusted with much and still more needs to be demanded of the person entrusted to more;” the passage challenges us to embrace accountability and responsibility to ourselves, but most importantly to the foreigner leaving or escaping their homeland for new lands and arriving in ours. It is in the world’s best interests to protect migrants and Pope Francis’ message during the crisis of separating families did not fail at inspiring deep reflection, often offering consolation and wisdom as well. I really wish the United States of America was present during those six months of negotiations. They would have learned so much practically, but probably more importantly, about its own faith.
As I continue to grapple with missionary discipleship and servant leadership in my every day tasks and duties, as I continue to discern my role in this effort and my service to the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, which protects and advances the rights and best interests of immigrant children according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, I am challenged to become a better ally to these children and families. During deportation proceedings, when immigrant and migrant children are confronted with a children’s immigrant justice system for the first time in their entire lives and they have no idea why this is happening to them, I’m going to remember these words, “…and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
Passionate and incisive in any endeavor, Michelle Pérez currently serves as the Cultural Commissions Coordinator for the New Jersey Department of State and was former Senior Aide to the Governor in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. She recently completed a Master of Arts at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University, concentrating in Post Conflict State Reconstruction and Sustainability and Latin America and the Caribbean. She is an alum of Saint Peter’s University where she pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, as well as secondary fields of study in Anthropology and Philosophy. She has served as the one-year recent alumnus/a trustee to serve on the Board of Trustees 2016-2017 of Saint Peter's University, the student Board Member for Alpha Sigma Nu for a second year, and the 1st fellow for the cohort of the Lead Hudson County internship in Jersey City, New Jersey. She served as the graduate student member on the Board of Overseers of the Seton Hall University School of Diplomacy and completed a fellowship with the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in July of 2018. A dual-citizen, Michelle has served her fellow Colombian citizens at the Consulado General de Colombia, in Newark, New Jersey. Furthermore, she has served as President of the Student Government Association for the 2015-2016 Academic year, where she first began her service to the Strategic Planning and Budget Committee, the Financial Committee, and the Board of Trustees and Regents Committee. She has coordinated and continues to participate in community service programs such as the Saint Peter's University Food and Clothes Pantry and the Saint Peter's University Campus Kitchen. Lastly, she previously held the position of a 3-year term as Youth Representative for Saint Peter's University in its Non-Governmental Organization status at the United Nations.