Blessings From the Border | Sojourners

Blessings From the Border

A Q+A with Catholic activist Christopher J. Hale
Pope Francis arrives at San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico, Feb. 15. Image via Aleteia Image Department/Flickr.

While at the border of Mexico and the U.S. this week, Pope Francis made several bold pronouncements — from censuring church and state leaders for corruption to avoiding censure of contraception in the case of women threatened by the Zika virus to, well, Trump. As predicted, thousands flocked to the pope during his visit. One of those pilgrims was Christopher J. Hale, Executive Director for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good in Washington, D.C.

Sojourners caught up with Hale on the pope’s agenda, Catholic social mission, and what the gospel means for those on the fringes.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Ryan Hammill: Can you tell me why you’re at the border?

Christopher Hale: Our organization promotes the social mission of the Catholic Church in the United States, [and] it would be naïve to view this trip and not have an American context to it. Clearly Pope Francis’ trip to the border today is communicating his desire that we be a society that welcomes and includes immigrants. The current immigration policy in the United States failed to do that. So I’m here today to lift up his story and encourage our political leaders to take just action on immigration reform.

Hammill: Are you at the mass? Can you set the scene for me?

Hale: This is a multi-nation mass. The altar is in Mexico, [and] there are 600 people on the American side of the border who will be participating. …Even though no one will physically cross the border, the Eucharist will cross the border, if you will — and we’ll take communion here in the United States.

Hammill: You mentioned earlier the social mission of the Catholic Church and how you want to lift that up. Would you mind going into a little detail about that?

Hale: The social mission of the Catholic Church can be reduced to the following: God became poor in Jesus Christ to save humanity, and we must do likewise. The social mission of the Catholic Church is about becoming poor for the poor. It communicates who God is, who Jesus is, who we’re called to be. For politics, it reverses things. It turns the world upside down.

Politics is inside out often — those closest to power get the most, those furthest away get the least. The Catholic social mission says that the last should be first, that God has a bias for the bottom. So our political policies should most benefit those who are on the fringes. It’s about turning our politics upside-down.

Hammill: I imagine you’re aware of Donald Trump’s comments about Pope Francis’ visit to the border. Do you think that Pope Francis will respond?

Hale: [Pope Francis’] worldview is that politicians need to have a special place in their service to the community, to the nation, for immigrants.

I think Donald Trump’s immigration policies are an affront to the gospel that Francis preaches, and an affront to the social mission of the Catholic Church. [Trump] says, “This is a political trip.” Well, to some degree, I agree with him. There are politics involved here. But Catholics don’t get involved in politics for a partisan agenda. We get involved to promote the gospel.

Hammill: Do you foresee any direct consequences from Pope Francis’ trip?

Hale: I think this trip will once again challenge the politicians of the United States to take action on immigration reform. While this trip is thousands of miles away from Washington, D.C., the only appropriate way to respond to this trip is in Washington, D.C. — what’s happening here at the border will hopefully translate into increased action and movement on immigration reform in the nation’s capital.

Hammill: Is there anything else about the border, Catholic social missions, or Pope Francis that you want our readers to know?

Hale: Francis’ trip today communicates what a politician should be —someone who takes on the identity of the excluded. That’s what he’s doing today. He’s taking on the identity of an immigrant, the identity of a migrant, the identity of an excluded person. He is practicing a politics from below, and I think what his actions provide is great material for politicians to reflect on and a great example to follow.