Reviewed by Donald Craig Mitchell Profiles in Catholicism
Two documentary films that remind us of how little progress we have made on immigration issues at our southern border – but also shine a light on ways forward
These two documentary films, now 12 years old, were brought to Assumption Church in Chicago and shown in January by Peggy Brown, Assumption’s Immigration Parish Coordinator, as part of the Archdiocesan observance of National Migration Week 2019.
They could have been filmed yesterday.
So little has changed, so little progress has been made toward resolving immigration issues on the border between the United States and Mexico that time appears to have been suspended as one watches these two films. One Border, One Body takes place on both sides of a fence that separates El Paso from Juarez; The Invisible Chapel takes place in what has been called a shantytown on the outskirts of a wealthy section of San Diego. Both films feature the transcendence of the Catholic Mass and the Eucharist through a balance of interviews, live action, exposition, visual representations, and narration. The effect is a feeling of cinéma vérité (“truth cinema”), where the viewer feels dropped into someone else’s reality.
And that sense of another’s reality is the true timeless experience these two films provide for the Catholic Church and Catholics in the United States. The Eucharist turns us into Jesus Christ, who represents hospitality and respect, who preaches unity not differences, who calls on us to identify with the disadvantaged, the dispossessed, the marginalized. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy are not optional; love does not depend on a green card and documentation.
The Church’s ministry is one of reconciliation. We are reminded in these films that the sign of peace was originally intended as an act of reconciliation of differences among congregants before accepting communion. Reconciliation requires us to transcend the divisiveness of the political, the cultural, the legal differences that create false walls.
These two films, while focusing on the transcendence of the Eucharist, also give some insight into how we might actually resolve immigration issues at ground level.
Various commentators in both films emphasize that we as Catholics don’t oppose legal restrictions on immigration, nor do we support illegal immigration. The United States has not developed a legal framework capable of handling the reality of immigration as it occurs now on the US southern border (“now” in these two films is originally 2007 and clearly extends into 2019 and probably beyond).
How do we move beyond this protracted stalemate? We are reminded that Jesus is found in the Gospel with all the “wrong” people . . . and with all the “right” people. Perhaps we can learn from Jesus and those who follow him today that immigration issues don’t lend themselves to solutions based on sides and opposition, but rather to inclusion and respect. Leaders don’t take sides; they don’t build walls. Leaders unite us; they seek common ground and build communities.
This is a ministry of reconciliation.