Bishop: Catholics Beyond Borders

by Bishop Joensen | May 19, 2021

Bishop William Joensen

Iowa bishops working through the Iowa Catholic Conference have found areas of common ground where we supported positions advanced by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.  Nonetheless, her unwillingness to explore options by which a limited number of extra-national children at our border might be relocated to Iowa is sorely disappointing.  Beyond whatever pragmatic or political considerations underlie her decision, as Catholic Christians and citizens of our state, faith both stretches our sense of the possible and commits us to seek means where we might extend hospitality and charity to these fellow human beings in collaboration with the governor, persons of other faiths, and good-willed citizens. 

Children, like all of us, find themselves in difficult situations beyond their control.  Children face problems, but children themselves are not “problems,” political or otherwise.  Children manifest the God-given dignity and immeasurable worth bestowed on all persons by our Creator God.  Jesus of Nazareth rebuked his own disciples and others who were relegating children to a reduced station in life, enjoining, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).  And he offers implied criticism of religious leaders and others who pass by rather than recognize and reach out to a victimized individual in distress, commending instead the Samaritan who instinctively grasps what it means to be truly neighbor to another. 

I am aware of the charge often lobbed at Catholics and others who oppose abortion and support the right to life of all human beings from conception to natural death: we are perceived to care only about prenatal babies and then disregard them once they are born. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Viable alternatives for housing children should be pursued without further delay. I am aware that many people , including children living in our state, have been impacted by economic and social challenges made worse by the pandemic. I commend our government officials for the practical steps already taken to alleviate their situation. Yet I also think that the situation of displaced children presently dwelling near our country’s southern border is an existential challenge that once again gives us the opportunity to define ourselves as Iowans who step up and seize the moment to do good for others. 

I am reminded of the scene in the classic film, Monsieur Vincent, depicting the life work of the apostle of charity, Vincent de Paul, who as a young priest enters a plague-stricken village and comes across a bedraggled orphan girl scrounging for food on the deserted streets.  He draws her into the main square and cries out to the villagers hiding behind locked doors and windows in words to this effect, “Who will take this poor daughter of God into their home?  I do not seek someone who is rich, dwelling in comfort and abundance.  I beseech the poor woman or man who already has too many mouths to feed, who knows how to stretch the soup and make ends meet.  Give me such a poor person who knows that one more mouth to feed is of little consequence, who is rich in faith and trust in God.” 

When it comes to the situation of children lying not all that far from our doorstep like Lazarus at the rich man’s home, God help us if we do not respond in love.  If we do nothing and claim that it is someone else’s problem, we show ourselves to be both humanly and spiritually impoverished, to an extent that no amount of government assistance, let alone a drink of water, will bring us relief.

Bishop Joensen

The Most Reverend William Joensen is the current bishop for the Diocese of Des Moines, having been ordained and installed in 2019.