By Sister Eileen Marnien, S.S.J.
Special to The CS&T

May 1 is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker. As a Sister of St. Joseph, I embrace this feast and all that it symbolizes – St. Joseph, husband, father, provider, protector, member of a community, a neighborhood, a town.

How easy it is to reflect on the images of Joseph at work in the carpenter shop of Nazareth with Jesus often at his side. I am at home with this image. It gives me comfort, yet it calls me to more. Upon reflection I realize that Joseph was also a refugee, forced to leave his homeland because of unjust laws and government structures.

Twice Joseph was visited by an angel who promised peace, safety and a more abundant life. Twice he responded to these dreams; once to protect his expectant wife and again to protect his family. The journey to Bethlehem and the flight into Egypt are familiar to all of us. So familiar, in fact, that I believe that we take these stories for granted. We easily forget that Joseph must have been filled with fear and burdened with the responsibility of protecting his family.

Each sojourn demanded trust, courage, hope and an enormous amount of faith. Each journey found Joseph and his holy family wandering in search of safety, depending on the kindness of strangers and struggling to assimilate into another culture.

This image of Joseph, the refugee, is more familiar than I realize. I live and work at the Sisters of St. Joseph Welcome Center in the Kensington area of Philadelphia where we work with the immigrant community. It is a joy and a privilege to walk daily with our new neighbors.

Each day we meet newcomers who, like Joseph, are following a dream of a more abundant life for their families. Each day we listen to stories of journeys to this new land filled with promise. Each day we hear of the struggle, the fear, the discrimination and the difficulty of assimilating into a new culture. Each day we are inspired by the faith, courage and hope of our new friends. Daily we renew our commitment to be a welcoming presence in their lives.

With St. Joseph as our model we can do nothing less; but are we called to do more?

May 1 is also the annual Day Without an Immigrant. This is the day set aside to consider how our lives are enriched by the presence of immigrants in our society and our workforce by pondering what our lives would be like without them. It is a day to consider the dignity of work and to consider how we “welcome the stranger.”

The day is also an opportunity to consider our broken immigration laws which separate families and burden hardworking people with unrealistic expectations of ever being truly at home here.

These immigrants are images of Joseph, the refugee, among us. They, too, are following a dream; they are working hard to protect their families, they are dependent on the kindness of strangers and they are filled with faith, courage and hope.

May St. Joseph the Worker, patron of the universal Church, call us to welcome, embrace and support our newest neighbors.

Sister Eileen Marnien is the director of the Sisters of St. Joseph Welcome Center in Philadelphia.