Title: A Promised Land, A Perilous Journey: Theological Perspctives on Migration
Author: Daniel G. Groody and Gioacchino Campese, Eds.
Publisher: Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008
Reviewer: Nell Becker Sweeden, Ph.D. Student in Practical Theology
A Promised Land: A Perilous Journey: Theological Perspectives on Migration is a compilation of essays that brings together Christian leaders and lay people, cultural anthropologists and sociologists, practioners and professors, Scalabrinian missionaries, and theologians on the theme of the U.S.-Mexico border and migration. These authors explore migration through four lenses: 1) foundations of a theology of migration; 2) mission, ministry, and migration; 3) the politics of sovereign rights, cultural rights, and human rights; and 4) constructive theologies of immigration. Each of the essays offers a rich perspective on the dignity, journey, life, rights, and spirituality of migrants, as well as their contribution to the life of the church. For the purposes of this summary, I wish to highlight some of the rich ecclesiological implications within a theology of migration.
I begin with a statement that frames two ecclesiological foundations for what it means to be a church for migrants: The church needs to be “an inn for weary travelers of the borderlands and frontiers, and an outpost of hope for exiles bound for the city of God” (Mark Griffin and Theron Walker, see p. 91). First, the offering of hospitality and, second, the calling the people of God toward pilgrimage are central to what it means to be church in the context of migration. Both of these aspects of the church’s identity involve movement toward and with migrants and together as the body Christ.
With regard to both hospitality and pilgrimage, Stevan Bevans, in “Mission among Migrants, Mission of Migrants: Mission of the Church,” explores the degree to which the church is transformed by those considered “others” in its midst. Important to this transformation is the church’s ability to welcome migrants as “gifts” rather than as “strangers.” This implies that the migrants are participants in the church, by being welcomed as those who shape and contribute to the identity and life of the church. Bevans offers ecclesiological reflection on how migrants call the church: 1) to its true identity in catholicity and unity in diversity, 2) to its pilgrim nature as the people of God always en route toward God, and 3) to rely on God rather than self-sufficiency, which is revealed in the migrant’s own need and dependence on God during her journey.
In this sense, the reality of migrants journeying toward and criss-crossing over the U.S.-Mexico border directs the church toward more authentic and needed participation in God’s mission. For example, the existence of migrants in the body of Christ makes for the necessary distinction between church as “building” and church as “mission” and directs the church to God—who is found on the road and crossing borders rather than in holy buildings (101). Additionally, in reference to the catholicity of the church, Patrick Murphy notes that the reality of migrants in our faith communities points to the fact that an open church—called to open wide its doors— is a church without borders (148). This, in turn, points the church toward action and movement toward and with the migrant—“from the pews to the shoes” (150). In addition, Jorge E. Castillo Guerra offers an intercultural methodology based on the coming together of many cultures through migration. Ecclesial “practices that are prophetic, communal, hope-filled, and based on convivencia and solidarity” reflect this intercultural methodology for a theology of migration within the church (243).
Daniel Groody and Stephan Bevans particularly set out to explore the possibility of meeting Christ in the migrant. This meeting occurs through a hospitality that not only welcomes the migrant into a new community, but welcomes her as a gift that brings Christ and calls the body of Christ toward further faithfulness and transformation. Bevans offers the reality of the “Border Christ” or “Migrant Christ” and the possibility of seeing the “face of God” in the “faces of migrants” (90, 94). In the book’s closing chapter, Groody offers insight into how the migrant’s journey parallels the structural core of the liturgy of the Eucharist reflected in the four verbs that Jesus uses in Luke’s gospel (304-305). First, the migrant’s difficult decision to migrate often originates in the reality of not enough bread to eat; this, in turn, parallels Jesus’ action in “he took the bread” (305). Again, the migrant’s compelling testimony of faith and thankfulness amidst sadness, suffering, and pain, parallels Jesus’ action in “he said the blessing” (307). The migrant being broken on a daily basis to provide bread for her family reflects Jesus’ action in “he broke the bread” (308). Finally, the migrant pouring out her life for the good of others, parallels Jesus’ final action “and he gave it to his disciples” (310). In this way, Groody presents the eucharistic invitation to “do this in memory of me,” on behalf of Christ and migrants. In this sense, he hopes to offer both the “Eucharistic perspective of migration” and the “migratory perspective of the Eucharist” reframed in terms of human life and dignity (312). The liturgy of the Eucharist calls the community of faith to transcend borders and see the immigrant with the eyes of Christ and, at the same time, to discern Christ in the eyes of the immigrant (313).