The mouth of a shark

by Guest Contributor

This article is written by Wesley Cocozello, Communications and Programs Manager for the Columban Centre for Advocacy and Outreach in Washington DC, USA. He is also the Co-Editor of the International JPIC Newsletter whose October 2020 issue was centred around Migrant Justice and where this article was first published.

Both the Old and the New Testaments reveal God’s abiding love for migrants. Scripture, as well as our Church’s two-thousand-year history, tell many heart-breaking stories about people fleeing from violence, persecution, and poverty. Even Jesus and his family were refugees.

Reflecting on these sacred foundations, the Catholic Church recognizes that people have the right to migrate to sustain their lives, and the lives of their families, if they cannot do so in their country of origin. The migrant’s story reminds us of a fundamental principle of Catholic social teaching: that the goods of the earth are intended to benefit all people. It is never God’s will that some of God’s children live in luxury while others have nothing.

Catholic social teaching is prudent though: it does acknowledge that countries can legitimately regulate their borders and their immigration processes in a safe and orderly way. However, it also states that countries are obligated to design and conduct these processes with mercy and justice. Governments should understand their duties in light of the absolute dignity of all people and their sacred commitment to the common good.

In our times, it’s especially important to be aware of how subversive discourse distorts conversations in the public square and government policies, as well as our own attitudes.

St. Columban teaches us that “a life unlike our own can be our teacher.” We must always root ourselves in the lived experiences of vulnerable people, which includes migrants. For example, Fr. Bob Mosher, Director of the Columban Mission Center in El Paso, TX, has said that he considers it a blessing and an opportunity to serve and support them. All of us are transformed by the spiritual and cultural gifts migrants bring to our communities.

While Columbans “believe that we are called to both serve the needs of migrants everywhere,” we also have committed ourselves “to
address[ing] the root causes of migration so that people and their families have the choice to remain at home” (Society Migration Statement).

It is important to remember that migration is a symptom of other injustices. Migrants all around the world are fleeing crippling poverty, environmental destruction, extreme violence, political instability, and other serious threats to life.

As British-Somali poet and refugee, Warsan Shire, wrote in her famous poem “Conversations about Home:” “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

That’s why one of the most important things we can do to protect migrants is to advocate for policies that address the root causes of migration. These policies should help create just and dignified conditions for migrants in their home countries, allowing them to live in safety and with dignity.

As people of faith, God calls us to live in solidarity with others, especially with those who live in poverty or are marginalized. At the border, Pope Francis reminds us that we have “an opportunity to meet Jesus Christ, who identified himself with the foreigner who has been accepted or rejected in every age.”


“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

Warsan Shire

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