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Blessed Are the Refugees: Spiritual Tools for Accompanying Migrant Children

Blessed are the Refugees:  Beatitudes of Immigrant Children by Scott Rose, Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J. and Staff and Volunteers of Catholic Charities Esperanza Center, Orbis Books, 2018

Reviewed by Susan Gallagher

Currently some 14,000 minor children are being held in detention in the United States while their immigration cases are pending.  The number is growing constantly, as are reports of inadequate conditions, abuse and neglect.  Other immigrant children have been released to foster care or to the custody of family members as their legal cases work their way through the system.  The United Nations High Commission on Refugees has said that by the end of 2016, there were 65.6 million forcibly displaced people in the world and children under 18 are over half the refugee population. Their stories are heartbreaking and often so overwhelming that it can be hard to keep listening, difficult to stay engaged.

Blessed are the Refugees: Beatitudes of Immigrant Childrenoffers an opportunity to connect with the concerns of immigrant children in a more reflective and hopeful way.  Each chapter views the story of one particular child or teen through the lens of one of the beatitudes.  The reader thus accompanies each child through her struggles and successes and gains insight into how these young people exemplify amazing resilience and grace. There is pain in each vignette, but also inspiration.  These reflections have been written by different individuals—lawyers, a translator, a deacon– who work with Esperanza Center, a program of Catholic Charities of Baltimore, and this variety of perspectives gives the stories additional texture.  One author speaks of her Jewish background and links the beatitudes to the Hebrew Scriptures in Isaiah.

The evocative color illustrations included in the book are the work of one of the immigrant youth served by Esperanza Center and of her brother who remained behind in El Salvador, which in itself is a poignant illustration of the painful separations immigrant children endure.

Some of the young people featured in these stories seem to be headed for a secure future, while others appear to be on a more tenuous trajectory.  Some are models of diligence and resolve; others have stumbled and made unwise or self-defeating choices.  The cumulative effect of their histories puts a human face on the question of immigration.  It leaves the reader re-engaged and recommitted to the “conversion of heart” discussed by the bishops of the United States and Mexico in their 2003 document “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.” Jesuit Leo J. O’Donovan quotes from the document in his introduction, saying that a conversion of heart “deals with confronting attitudes of cultural superiority, indifference and racism; accepting migrants not as foreboding aliens, terrorists or economic threats, but as persons with dignity and rights, revealing the presence of Christ; and recognizing migrants as bearers of rich cultural values and rich faith traditions” (xix).

Such a conversion of heart is supported by the inclusion of a prayer to conclude each chapter of the book.  Blessed are the Refugees:  Beatitudes of Immigrant Children  is valuable reading as a spiritual practice for Advent or Lent, or for anyone who wishes to be in solidarity with the immigrants in our midst. This book reminds us that all of us– citizen and refugee, housed and homeless, adult and child—are together on the journey.

Houston Catholic Worker, January-March 2019, Vol. XXXIX, No. 1.