Today is Ash Wednesday. It marks the beginning of a period of introspection and penitence called Lent. But during this particular season of reflection for Catholics, there might be a little bit more to consider, including President Donald Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration.
So how do Catholics make sense of their faith in the current climate this morning?
Take Two put that question to Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu. She's a Roman Catholic and an associate professor of theology at Loyola Marymount University.
Today is one of the most important days in the church calendar, and it comes at a difficult time. The political climate impacts undocumented Latinos, and they make up a significant portion of Catholic congregations here in Southern California. How are people coming to terms with this tension today?
Religious rituals make us into communities. They nurture the making of communities. So I think that right now, to be able to come together at this very important time as we begin Lent, it's crucial because it does nurture us with each other. It reminds us that we are not alone. It can be a very fruitful time for us in terms of helping us to sustain our strength and sustain our resolve as we face this very difficult time for us.
Los Angeles is one of the biggest Catholic communities in the country. How much of a difference does it make that so many people are reflecting at the same time?
It makes a wonderful difference in many ways. One is that because we are such a strong Catholic community in Los Angeles, we are able to reach each other and help each other and create networks and train each other for how to help at this time through our churches. That's something that we saw Martin Luther King and his movement do very well during the civil rights movement, and I think we've taken a page out of that here in Los Angeles.
Our archdiocese here and even our neighboring archdioceses are all involved in reaching out through their parishes because we don't want our community to feel alone or feel like they are not prepared. So we need to do that preparation, and we need to create that solidarity.
The ashes that many people have on their foreheads this morning represent grief — grief that sin has divided God and man. Now, politics divide man and man. A Pew survey after the election revealed that 52 percent of Catholics voted for Donald Trump. How do people who claim to believe in the same god come up with such different views on what their role is right now?
I think that this is a lot on us. By 'us' I mean on the church leadership, that we have not formed our communities sufficiently enough. I do feel like I need extra ashes as a professor of theology.
When we have people claim to be Christians while at the same time they are hurting their neighbor and carrying out actions against their neighbor, that is completely incoherent with their faith.
To Catholics who voted for Mr. Trump, this is a time when I would hope that they would realize that they have done great harm to their sisters and brothers. It's a time for repentance; it's a time to get down on our knees and say, "Okay, I made a mistake, I listened to someone's fancy stories, not realizing what's behind this, and what's behind this is something that will hurt a lot of people—
But for a lot of Catholics, Cecilia, there's a lot of things that they might find agreeable: Maybe what happens with abortion rights, maybe what happens economically. There are a lot of things [to which] a Catholic might say "I don't like that, but I do like this."
Right, except Jesus is very clear. He doesn't give us wiggle room. There's one commandment and one commandment only, and if you follow this, everything else takes care of itself. It's "Love God above all and your neighbor as yourself."
The moment we turn away from the love of neighbor, we have completely turned away from God. We can't just pick and choose who our neighbor is. We can't just pick and choose what it is life means. We can't just say 'I am pro-life' but let 11 million people's lives be destroyed.
But is supporting tougher immigration laws not loving your neighbor?
I think that we need to have caring, compassionate immigration laws that will allow us to all live together in a way that allows everyone to flourish.
Like our Pope says, when we create walls, it's always to the detriment. It's never to the good. So, of course, we need to reform our system, and that will lead us to a good place. But creating walls or removing people whose entire lives have been built in this country is absolutely suicidal for a country that depends so heavily on this community.
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(Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.)