Edith Avila Olea

You may have heard that in early October, Pope Francis released his latest encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship.” Pope Francis once again shows us just how connected he is with those suffering around the world. He challenges us to seek solutions to the injustices and growing indifference occurring throughout the world.

This is the type of reading that brings me a fresh wave of hope. Yet, these types of documents so easily miss everyday Catholics.

If you can, read it. This work, positioned next to the divisiveness and political trauma we’ve endured, brought me such peace and renewed sense of hope.

I sincerely think it would help all Catholics who have felt frustrated with the injustices we have experienced in the U.S. — like losing Black and brown lives, losing loved ones to COVID-19, separated families, growing hunger and job loss, and so many more painful moments — to receive Christ’s hope by reading it with an open heart.

To some extent, there isn’t anything new to Pope Francis’ latest writing. He has always been clear about his solidarity with the poor, the hungry, the immigrant, the refugee and the forgotten. He has spent years urging church and government leaders, Christians and non-Christians, to prioritize the needs of the least of our brothers and sisters.

Where I was touched was his centering this encyclical on the parable of the good Samaritan. He titles this second chapter, “A stranger on the road.” I feel this so deeply.

I, too, am a stranger. This is how I feel living as in immigrant in the U.S. For my entire life, I have been neither from here nor there. I have spent years adapting, relearning, molding, trying to fit in as the perfect immigrant. But the harder I try, the more I can’t fit into this idea.

In this letter, Pope Francis affirmed my dignity as a daughter of Christ. No, it is not my fault that my life has been used as a political pawn, a part of the throwaway culture we have created. This is not God’s will.

How long have we debated about the broken immigration system? How long have we debated the worth of DACA recipients? How long have leaders used the immigrant only to stomp on their being, work and culture? Too long!

While Pope Francis, of course, did not change this injustice, he addresses, recognizes and hears it. And even though thousands of miles away, without ever encountering the Holy See, I felt heard.

Pope Francis noted that so much injustice has been disguised as justice, which only deepens the wound of the inflicted.

At times, I have felt angered by the lack of leadership in this administration. They have intentionally worked to hurt immigrants. Their immigration policies insinuate that some lives are worth more than others — some people have become a burden, a part of the throwaway culture.

Yet, we will continue to advocate for immigrant rights because it’s justice work. It’s holy work.

As an immigrant advocate and in my previous roles, I have always tried to work for the poor and vulnerable. The motivation for my work has come from my belief in dignity and justice for all — not some — not the rich — not just for privileged — for all.

Fighting against policies designed to further alienate poor and vulnerable immigrants is the work of Christ. What an honor to be able to do this work.

Pope Francis’ willingness to write about our dark reality, which is uncomfortable and challenging, is why I was given a renewed sense of hope. We cannot bring light to darkness if we don’t allow ourselves to see darkness.

Brothers and sisters, we cannot only pray for better days. We have to be willing to be the reason better days will come. Do we recognize our own role as the good Samaritan?

As the pope says, “Sincere and humble worship of God ‘bears fruit not in discrimination, hatred and violence, but in respect for the sacredness of life, respect for the dignity and freedom of others, and loving commitment to the welfare of all'” (No. 283).

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Edith Avila Olea works in immigrant advocacy. The 2015 winner of the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, she holds a master’s degree in public policy and a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication.