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Were You There: What Did You Do?

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Editor’s Note: NSLP alumna Bridget Higginbotham shares about attending the Mass at the White House for Muslim Refugees, and reflects on how the next step after being present is taking action.

Sometimes I imagine that 50 years from now, future generations will ask me about something they learned about in history class.

The conversation might start something like,“Were you alive when…?” or, “Were you there?” Assuming my answer is yes, the second question in this imagined conversation is always, “So what did you do?”

And it is this second question that haunts me.

It is easy to admit to proximity or awareness, it is another to account for your actions.

If I have to give that account someday, I do not want to be ashamed. I want my actions to reflect Gospel values and I want them to be a positive model for these future interviewers. Thus this hypothetical conversation has spurred me in recent months toward somewhat of an activist streak.

It has also made me appreciate the unique opportunities presented to those of us living in the greater Washington, DC metro area, because we can be offer our physical presence outside the Supreme Court, the Capitol, and the White House as a visible way to show our support–or opposition–of an issue.

This is how I found myself one cold, gray January afternoon kneeling in Lafayette Park — essentially the White House’s backyard — in prayer for the victims of the ban on Muslims, especially refugees and immigrants. The Mass was organized in response to the executive order signed two days earlier, and it was one of the more powerful spiritual experiences of my life.

The readings for that day were eerily relevant to the situation. Listening to The Beatitudes in the shadow of the White House was an incredible opportunity for reflection. Hymns I had sung a hundred times before moved me to tears as they suddenly had new meaning in this context.

And as the 550 of us encircled the makeshift altar, we welcomed into our midst the body and blood of Jesus, who had himself been a refugee, who had himself been persecuted. In that moment, I could not imagine a more radical act.

As we prepared to individually receive Jesus through communion, we prayed, “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” For it is we the host that need the grace to open up our hearts, minds, and arms in order to better receive the guest. It is we that need the grace to recognize Jesus in our brothers and sisters, no matter their origin or circumstance.

Being at that Mass filled me with a sense of community and hope as I saw the faces of others committed to answering Jesus’ call to love and welcome, St. Francis’ call to be instruments of peace, and Pope Francis’ call to duty of justice, of civility and of solidarity.”

I hope my presence sent the right message to those who needed to hear it, but if nothing else, it gave me the fresh perspective and energy that propel me to explore more ways I can help counter the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.

I was there. But I am not yet done.

Reflection Question: spend some time today with the question, “What did you do?” How can you take action today to respect and welcome those around you?


Links for Further Reading:

Catholic Social Teaching on Immigration

USCCB on Islam and Muslim-Catholic Relations

“Solidarity At the Service Of All People In The Middle East”

“U.S. Bishops’ Chair On Migration Responds to Ninth Circuit Court Of Appeals Decision”

“USCCB Chairmen Express Solidarity With Muslim Community, Deep Concern Over Religious Freedom Issues, In Response To Executive Order On Refugees”

“President And Vice President Of The U.S. Conference Of Catholic Bishops Stand In Defense Of All Faiths In Response To Executive Order On Refugees”

“USCCB Committee On Migration Chair Strongly Opposes Executive Order Because It Harms Vulnerable Refugee And Immigrant Families”

Bridget Higginbotham came to Franciscan Mission Service as a Nonprofit Leadership Program associate volunteer in 2011. She went on to serve as our Communications Manager and the inaugural chair of Franciscan Service Network until July 2016. Originally from Orlando, Fla., she is a proud Girl Scout alumna and graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.