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The Christmas Story: Welcoming the Holy Family at Casa Juan Diego

by L. V. Diaz

The Christmas story of my childhood has changed very little in my mind. As I understood it and still understand it today, Mary and Joseph were forced by an unjust and corrupt government to take a precarious journey, one that put the mother and her unborn child into great danger. Escaping the power of a State that meant them harm, they were comforted and given hospitality by the meek and lowly. Possibly this was not the story I was told, but it certainly was what I heard.

I am reminded every year at Christmas time of how we live out this version of the Christmas story every day at Casa Juan Diego. Providing hospitality to those that have made a similar journey is the heart of what we do. Whatever path they took to arrive at our door, perhaps after fleeing death by a long, perilous journey from their home country, or fleeing the cruel conditions of immigration detention, or escaping terrible violence within their own home, it is our chance to welcome the Holy Family.

Each Wednesday we take a small break from this work at lunch time to engage in a “clarification of thought,” following Dorothy Day’s practice of discussing the pressing social and economic issues of the day.  Sometimes we are tired, or the doorbell won’t quit ringing, and the discussion is without great impact, but other times it strikes a chord.  Recently, a young staff member was talking about the call to be more active in bringing attention to racism and inequality by joining in protests, a tradition that is well established in the Catholic Worker movement. Dorothy Day sat and marched and stood and went to jail to bring attention to the structures of oppression and inequality. In purposeful solidarity, many of our staff have been attending the peaceful protests of the past few months, and I am certain that Dorothy would have approved, both of the protests themselves and of the non-violent methods of protesting. Her pacifism was very important to her; she believed that no cause, however just, would be advanced by violence. If we adopt the methods of the oppressor, we become like them, in time, we become them.

Yet I wanted our young Catholic Workers to see that what they do, every day, is also a protest against injustice. That our very presence in this place is an act of resistance. That the fact that Casa Juan Diego is here at all, let alone for the past 40 years, is a testimony to the power of saying, “no” with love. Every action of service, of care or concern about a person or family excluded and persecuted by our current immigration system is a refusal to accept the status quo.

This is a bold thing we do and not for the faint of heart. Every work of mercy, feeding or clothing or sheltering people, whether or not they can prove that they are “legal,” is a simple yet radical refusal to accept the system that we have. In providing sandwiches and healthcare to day laborers on our corners, we say everyone should be able to work without fear of accidents, arrest, or not being paid; in our caring for asylum seekers in our houses of hospitality, we are saying that those in fear for their lives and in need of protection should be welcomed and comforted;  in our accepting of migrant persons from detention facilities, we are saying that human beings should not be unjustly imprisoned,  assaulted, or separated from their children by trick or force.  Every day we are overseeing, outside our front door and behind it, a quiet revolution, one without pomp or circumstance, but one whose very existence is a protest against injustice. We have been doing this work for forty years, and, God willing, we will continue on, supported by our faithful community, and guided by the words of Father Dan Berrigan, SJ, to use love as our only weapon.

Houston Catholic Worker, October-December 2020, Vol. XL, No. 4.