THE FELLOW TRAVELERS
Borders, Migrations and Identities: foreigners or tourists? By. Sr. Ester Lucas Maria
In the context of the reflection proposed by the Holy Father for The Synod 2023: “For a Synodal Church: communion, participation and mission”, I propose a reflection on the first thematic nucleus: The fellow travellers. The issues that accompany this core, that is, in the Church and in society, we are side by side, on the same road. In our local Church, who are those who “walk together”? Who are those who seem farther away? How are we called to grow as companions? What groups or individuals are left on the side lines? – these issues allow us to look at those who are most vulnerable today due to poverty and are left on the side of the road, on the peripheries of human existence. One of these groups is those who, for various reasons, must leave their lands to migrate, to seek other horizons. The phenomenon of human migration is as ancient as humanity (DOKOS, 2017, p. 102), and has, throughout history, enabled the evolution of the culture of peoples and of human civilization itself. Migration stems from the sharing of scientific and technological knowledge, cultural and religious principles and values which led humanity to progress and to the construction of history and humanism. However, today’s situation of human migration is not always positive, especially when those who migrate do so for socio-economic reasons, where populations of the poorest regions move to the more developed regions in search of better living conditions. This is one of the dearest themes to Pope Francis in his Magisterium. It is worth remembering the speech of Pope Francis in Lampedusa, gateway from Africa to Europe, where many emigrants were killed at sea, speaking to the current world of the gravity and cruelty of indifference that characterizes the culture of the postmodern world that generates the exclusion of the “other”, simply because they are different and have nothing to offer, because they are poor. The pope questioned this culture and criticized what he called the globalization of indifference. This global indifference is one of the signs of the failure of values that until now seemed to characterize cultures and in particular the way of being in African societies. The recognition of the “other” as a brother, the integration and recognition of the difference, tolerance and hospitality were lived values, but not sufficiently thought out, so that the appearance of outbreaks of violence and wars motivated by the denial of difference, intolerance surprises and finds everyone devoid of conceptual tools to cope with the deterioration of relations in society. The African continent is marked in our day by the multiple tragedies linked to genocide and fratricide wars, which randomly decimate all who think, believe and live differently. These situations generate an avalanche of internally and externally displaced persons to countries and the continent , . But immigrants both in the country and on the continent are denied their existence, either because of the indifference with which they are treated, or because of the hostility to which they are subjected, precisely because they are not like the locals. Although some difference can be made between the foreigner who is forced by circumstances, who finds themselves in a foreign land devoid of everything and in need of solidarity, and the foreigner who, on his own initiative and with a well-prepared trip, becomes a foreigner, with some financial and economic power, who is called an investor or tourist. The problem, both in Africa and elsewhere in the world, is not in being a foreigner, but rather in not having money, in being poor, in not being a relevant contributor to the socio-economic life of the place of destination. It is therefore relevant to reflect on those who despite being immigrants accumulate exclusion criteria in a world that values globalization as a process of homogenization of global culture, both in the economic and political level, and that nevertheless excludes. Indeed, if, on the one hand, there is an increasing tendency to abolish borders between nations to allow the free movement of people, goods and services, the human relations that are established tend to create excluded and invisible, in a system that favours those who are financially relevant.
I propose in this reflection that we think of the necessary openness in the understanding of the notion of frontier as a place of construction of identity and of fraternity that opens itself to the different, strange and foreign. Let us think of the role that the Christian community is called to offer, new paths in the construction of a more fraternal society, with respect for the different, without the desire to reduce it to uniformity, seeking and cultivating the plurality that builds and enriches.
1.Immigrants and foreigners make one think about the complex notion of border.
To think of immigrants is to question the concept of “frontier” and the need and importance to understand this concept in an open way, as a possibility to build relations of fraternity that without abolishing borders, resizes them and allows the construction of a common humanity.
The word “frontier” can be understood as synonymous with the boundary of a territory whether it is real, physical, or symbolic. It is a concept that provokes the reflection of reality in terms of limitation, prohibition, demarcation of spaces, private property or other people, which makes us think and feel in some way the insecurity, fear, questioning, hesitations and doubts, not only about the geographical space of the “I” and the “you”, but above all in relation to what it represents and means to both. In fact, borders call into question identity, geographical, social, cultural and even religious concepts in their constant movement of construction and constitution. The permeable character and the constant change of the sociocultural reality of peoples makes the concept of frontier a space, a place open to a continuous new meaning that overcomes geography and refers to reflection of the emotional, cultural, social, religious dimension and, why not, to the human dimension in what it has most common: its total fragility. The etymology of the term “frontier” is equally elucidating, in that it suggests a reality that is before the eyes and that points to the beyond. And this beyond is a horizon to which one walks, a horizon inhabited by the other that also stands before an inhabited space, invited to an encounter, a relationship of non-domination, of non-violence, a relationship that recognizes the otherness of the other. The frontier makes one think of law and duty, both present in the same movement of thought that establishes the relationship and that makes human life possible. It is the right of each one of the actors and the duty requires that each one is open to the recognition and allowance of the relationship.
In fact, the relationship with the “other” requires the maintenance of otherness in its total originality, the renunciation of the desire for domination, appropriation and integration.
It is about establishing an ethical relationship that breaks with all forms of violence that is always the result of the desire to eliminate the other in their difference and originality. As Lévinas (2001, p.75) says, “violent action does not consist of entering into a relationship with the “Other”, it is precisely the one in which the other acts as if they were alone”, therefore without the barrier that the border carries and without the recognition of the difference in the “other”. The refusal to recognize the border that the other imposes is a form of violence and refusal of a relationship where there are mutual rights and duties. The notion of frontier therefore appeals to the relationship, to ethics, an experience of the “other”, unique, irreducible to gender, to the whole concept and to the whole theoretical view, to the whole claim of universality. Thus, the border requires the recognition of what the other has as irreducible, different and calls for an ethical attitude, that is, to enter into relation with the other. That is why borders remain important even when there is free movement of people, goods and services between countries. It is the symbolic, geographical, cultural, religious, economic, financial or linguistic frontier that defines the foreigner, the tourist, the investor, the immigrant and their social visibility. In other words, understanding the frontier defines the ethical attitude, the experience of moving and having -or not- compassion for the other. Thinking about the frontier allows us to understand that the values of fraternity, of solidarity are not natural values, they are a consent, a call and a movement of our being towards the one we do not know, whose humanity awakens in us an ability to “be to and from the other”.
2. The (I) migrant, the foreigner in the common place “Frontier” and the duty of hospitality
The magisterium of Pope Francis is concerned with those on the margins, on the outskirts, on the border, concern for those whose presence and existence has become uncomfortable for a society that seeks to ignore, making them invisible, people and social groups whose identity and originality has lost meaning. These social groups or people who bother do not always cross state borders, but are on social, cultural or even religious “frontiers” and ask for recognition and the possibility of a relationship that humanizes, an ethical relationship. Violence in society towards the foreigner lies in the refusal to recognize the other and to act as if they did not exist, as if the “other” was invisible. Who are the invisible ones in our society? When we see those who are not in the majority, those who are strangers, different, and those we deny existence, we ignore, we refuse them the possibility of building a common world, a hospitable welcome in common spaces, then we realize that in all human communities there is a danger of invisible people. The Christian utopia is precisely the challenge of recognizing our unfinished fraternity that demands acceptance of the vulnerability of the other, the fellow being that life has given me, so that they may become the brother discovered by the heart and who is precious to me. (Fil 1.16).
Human experience shows that we are irreducibly exposed to the coming of the other, to the encounter with the different. Faced with this, there are only two possibilities, as Derrida (2001) states, that the one who comes is known and expected, and then we are faced with a conditional hospitality, or the one who comes is not expected, is even hostile, and this asks for an unconditional hospitality. This hospitality that unconditionally welcomes the other, the foreigner (DERRIDA, 2001, p. 47), makes possible the mutual transformation and the possibility of the common construction of shared good. The realities of frontier, with the mutual recognition of difference, establish a process of transformation in which host and guests are susceptible to transformation, at the risk of having to revisit their identities and resume the process that evolves into the construction of a new way of being and living in society. This openness is a condition of the emergence of the new that allows the common space of life and growth both for the host and for the guest (DERRIDA, 2001).
Therefore, the encounter that takes place on the “frontier” is not that of assimilation but of mutual transformation and the emergence of the new. This newness is the common good “an arduous goodness to achieve, because it requires the capacity and constant search for the good in others as if it were our own” (CDSI, 2018, n.167). The absolute and unconditional exposure of one another, of the host to the guest, not only to take responsibility for the other, with the risk of imposing on him his way of seeing the world, but of letting himself be transformed by the visit, by the presence of the other, in his unconditional otherness.
The border present in the foreigner is therefore the common place, from which each one understands in his identity and opens to the other’s difference while sharing the common space, the common border.
The recognition of the border that constitutes the difference allows the encounter and the relationship with the “other” opening both up to the ethical dimension and inaugurating intelligibility, which refuses the possible conceptual apprehension of the other, whether emotionally, culturally or religiously. It is the recognition of the “space – frontier” that allows the acceptance of the resistance inherent to difference and the non-possibility of assimilation and integration, thus establishing the regime of hospitality.
3. The Foreigner in our midst
The first story of brothers we find in Sacred Scripture is both a story of admiration and competition that goes all the way to the violence and murder of a brother (Gen 4:1-10). The aspiration to recognize one’s own identity and appreciation of what one is and brings within themselves can awaken the violent impulse that leads to death of the brother. We can say that there is a tension between the vision of the fascinated brother and the vision of the brother that must be eliminated so that my identity is recognized and affirmed. Cain wants to be recognized in what he produces and what he can offer, and he does not support Abel’s offering being well received by God. It is from this frustration and the illusory conviction that his offering is not received by God that the intention to kill his brother is born. Fraternity is not a given, it is the work of conscience that makes us consent and decide to take the risk of encounter and care for others.
It is thus explained that the relationship with the other, the foreigner, is the result of an attitude and a decision that must be continually nourished by solid convictions born from the experience of love received and shared. Therefore, biblical passages about the relationship with the foreigner always appeal to the ethical decision that arises from the personal experience of individual and collective vulnerability: “You shall treat the foreigner who resides with you as a fellow native born among you, you will love him as yourselves, for you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD, your God.” (Lev 19, 34).
When the word of God is addressed to Cain there are three fundamental questions that require the conscience of the brother: Where are you? – own relationship; Where is your brother – relationship with the other; What have you done? – acting for the other. This is a way of saying that existing before the brother is the great challenge of the human condition and therefore fraternity is at the heart of the construction of the Covenant that is celebrated with God and the brother.
Fraternity is an unfinished construction that takes place to the extent that each one stands before the other, without fear or shame and agrees to make the path of mutual hospitality. When this happens the stranger ceases to be strange, ceases to be a brother imposed by circumstances and becomes a traveling companion to the father’s house, where the sharing already begun on the way becomes recognition of the fraternity founded on the gift of the Father in His Son made bread for the way (Lk 24, 13 ss).
If this is the utopia to which the Word of God invites us to in our daily experience, it shows that we still have a long way to go. Christian communities often receive brothers from other latitudes and geographies who, when arriving in a certain place, do not make way for their brothers and sisters and tend to constitute “micro communities” where foundation and congregation criteria are tribal and linguistic and belonging is no longer recognized as belonging to faith in Christ . The presence of Christian brothers and sisters from other Christian countries and traditions in a certain place should be a source of enrichment in the diversity of traditions, a space for the action of the Holy Spirit who makes all things new. But separate communities easily arise, communities who recognize themselves by language or belong to a geographical space. The ecclesiological notes of catholicity, universality, plural brotherhood is blurred by the need for identity affirmation that is not part of the Covenant or belonging to Christ. The foreigner and the host do not make way for the encounter, on the contrary, it leads to cohabitation that does not transform because the meeting does not take place. Indeed, as Martin Buber says, “if we live juxtaposed, we will end up opposed, so we must always be on the same side, to enter into some composition to live together. It is worth remembering that the existence of the “other” depends on my ability to respond to their appeal and their fragility, it is the gaze of one another, the face to face that allows the experience of existence before the other. The first Christian communities offer everyone the example of the construction of fraternity that at Pentecost goes through the experience of listening to a word that is addressed to each one, so that everyone understood, in their own language, although they come from different geographical points. When we listen to the word that God addresses to us, gathered, and gathered by him, we can hear and perceive that his Spirit gathers us and sends us (Acts 2:1-11).
If the world is indifferent to the tragedy that strikes the marginalized and invisible alien, marked by denial, because they have no papers, are without a domicile, without identity, without money, without training, without acquaintances, unable to express themselves in the local language, therefore without existence, the Christian community must be this space where they can exist, due to the innate outlook and language that the people gathered in Christ are born into. We must affirm as Paul: “So then you are no longer strangers, nor sojourners, but fellow citizens with the holy ones and the family of God; built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ is the corner stone; through Him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred to the Lord” (Eph. 2:19-21).” Only the culture of encounter allows this universal plurality.
The encounter with the “other” is radically open to a transformation and the coming of something that cannot be mastered or determined, given the vulnerability of the unarmed “I” before the “other” and vice versa.
In this reflection on the frontier as a place and fraternity as a horizon, in the light of the Magisterium of the Church, it was possible to perceive fraternity that without abolishing borders and perhaps, thanks to the understanding of the complexity of this concept, allows relativizing and resizing the boundaries to give way to the construction of a universal fraternity. The concept of “frontier” calls for a reflection of human relations in terms of limitations, identities, own cultures and plural worldviews. It opens the reflection for integrating the feelings that are born before the new and the different: insecurity, fear, questioning, hesitations and doubts, not only regarding the geographical space of “I” and “you”, but above all in relation to what it represents and means for both. The permeable character and the constant change of the sociocultural reality of people allows us to think of the common construction of a more fraternal society where thinking of the frontier is a space, a place open to a continuous new meaning that overcomes geography and allows reflection about the vulnerability and fragility of the human being. It is necessary to think then of law, justice and charity as essential elements in the construction of a more fraternal society, a society that is guided by welcome, hospitality, dialogue and solidarity. Globally it is important that each one where he is puts himself at the service of the common good, where everyone is welcome and open to the fraternity. The openness to the complexity of “frontier” to overcome spatial meaning and integrate categories such as communication, relationship, of influence and power and the constant construction of meanings and perceptions of life in society, enriched by the encyclical Fratelli Tutti, allows us to affirm that fraternity is possible when the frontier between peoples is thought in terms of dynamic space, of cultural, economic and religious exchanges and relations in the continuous construction of universal brotherhood, which opens imperatively to the search for the common good. It is about embracing the utopia of the united fraternity in its plurality for all to be brothers and not foreigners. Those frontiers that are necessary and important, by social organization and international boundaries, are an opportunity for dialogue of cultures (FT 136), because today more than ever “we are either all saved together, or no one is saved. Poverty, decadence and suffering in one part of the Earth are a silent breeding ground for problems that will ultimately affect the entire planet” (FT 137). ”
The interconnection between peoples, countries, and the common dependence on the growth of all is so evident that awareness of the need to build universal brotherhood beyond differences and geographical or other boundaries must grow. In fact, to live is to accept a social pact that continually seeks “points of contact, to build bridges, to design something that involves everyone” (FT 216). It is about understanding identity with respect for diversity by accepting to give something of oneself to collaborate and contribute to the common good. (FT 221).
The construction of universal brotherhood involves the renunciation of some trends in today’s world where massification takes place, the primacy of individual interests, the isolation of people and the fragile dimension of community, which places people in a society of all against all (FT. 12 and 16). It is important to adopt a new way of seeing the world, starting from the human vocation (FT 26) of construction, of a “we” that inhabits the common house (FT 17). Let us be Christian communities where the community is built without foreigners among us: you are no longer foreigners, nor outsiders, but fellow citizens of the Saints and the family of God; built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, of which Jesus Christ is the main corner stone; in which the whole becomes the holy temple in the Lord!