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Is Casa Juan Diego a Smuggling Operation? No, Just the Works of Mercy for Immigrants and Refugees

by L. V. Diaz

With the discovery of the deceased who had suffocated in a trailer truck jammed with living and the dead, local reporters besieged Casa Juan Diego with questions.

They wanted to know-and the public was demanding to know-about the life of the immigrants. Since Casa Juan Diego provides hospitality to 125 to 150 each night, they were at the right place.

The first question came on the phone from a reporter from one of Houston’s major stations: “We want to know about your smuggling operation.”

We were rather aghast at the accusation, since we don’t smuggle people. We merely perform the Works of Mercy, one of which is to be shelter the homeless.

Below is our usual response:

At Casa Juan Diego we do not help people who shouldn’t be here.

At Casa Juan Diego we simply practice the Works of Mercy, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick and imprisoned.

At Casa Juan Diego we help new immigrants and refugees because of belief in Sacred Scripture.

Biblical Imperative

The Bible says that we should receive the alien, those from the foreign land, into our homes. This is why Casa Juan Diego was started; an attempt to be biblical in the face of increased immigration to the City of Houston.

Trying to Be Holy

At Casa Juan Diego we are hooked on St. Matthew’s chapter 25, verse 31 and following, where Jesus tells us what we do for the least of the brethren, we do for him.

Matthew 25:31ff tells us about the requirements to receive a good evaluation at the end of one’s life. It has to do with serving sisters and brothers.

At Casa Juan Diego we are trying to be holy by doing what the Lord asks of us, i.e., practice the Works of Mercy in order to prepare for our final evaluation.

God knows we haven’t succeeded. Mostly we are tired, impatient people who constantly forget that it is more important to be holy than to be busy.

Dorothy Day: Mystery of the Poor

“The mystery of the poor is this,” Dorothy Day wrote, “that they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do to him.” Day admitted the possibility of being wrong about everything, except the Works of Mercy. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, one can never go wrong, she thought, the program coming directly from our Lord. St. Matthew descries them as the preeminent criteria of salvation. It is the keystone of the Catholic Worker movement and one of the supporting pillars of Day’s profound pacifism. “The Works of Mercy are the opposite of the works of war.” To embrace one is to turn away from the other (Robert Gilliam).

Did Jesus Require I.D.?

No I.D. is required at Casa Juan Diego. We searched the Scriptures and nowhere could we find where Jesus required identification of people to receive help.

We are incensed when people uninvited force their financial papers and identification papers upon us, as if this sets them apart.

The Good Samaritan, an Illegal Alien

Could you imagine the Good Samaritan demanding I.D. from the man he had found robbed and beaten and passed by, by society’s best?

Could you imagine the Good Samaritan throwing the robbed and beaten man back into the ditch, because he didn’t have papers, “just another wetback,” we can hear people saying.

Ironically, the Good Samaritan was an illegal alien, or at least an unwelcomed alien from the North.

Just what was Jesus telling us?

Some Aliens should be Here

All theologians, liberal and conservative, state that parents have the right to take the food of others to prevent their children from starving. All of them give permission to steal in this situation. This is always one of the first lessons of the seventh commandment.

The Right to Life becomes before the Right to Possess.

Obviously, all theologians would give parents the right to go to the place where they could earn food for their children.

Breaking the Law or Fulfilling the Law

–Our Sin–
At Casa Juan Diego we are not conscious of breaking the law. Our big challenge is trying tofulfill the law of love, the law of love that Jesus Christ mandated.

That is very hard.

Working with our other Catholic Workers to provide thousands of nights of lodging each week, ten of thousands of meals, keeping the bathrooms clean and working in many houses, being up late at night and early in the morning, providing groceries and clothes to hundreds weekly, caring for the sick, staffing programs for adults and children are all things we find very difficult. It would be easier to break the law in some dramatic way. We are jealous, sinfully jealous, of those who are called to make their protest in five minutes or two weeks and it’s all over.

Can the Works of Mercy be Illegal?

Being a good Catholic is challenging, to say the least. It can hardly be illegal.

At Casa Juan Diego we are ordinary Catholics doing our thing, trying to do what Jesus and the Church asks of us, carrying the mandate to love our neighbor as ourselves and perform the Works of Mercy.

Could you imagine anyone going to jail for trying to be a good Catholic and for practicing the Works of Mercy?

U.S.A., Nazi Germany and the Works of Mercy

Helping refugees who are fleeing oppression and starvation has always been a work of the church.

Some Catholics did this during WorldWar II. Most did not.

Most non-Catholics did not help either, but they did write plays and books attacking the Church for not helping more refugees.

We need help with today’s refugees today.
(Reprinted from the Houston Catholic Worker 1989)

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXIII, No. 4, July-August 2003.