Mercy Moments: Episode Six

Mercy Moments: Our lives are dripping with mercy.  Indeed, our world is drenched in it.

“They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.” 

Mark 15:21

I spent the year after I graduated college in Ecuador as a volunteer with Rostro de Cristo (Spanish for the Face of Christ); living and working with six other recent college graduates from the United States.  Doing our best to embrace a different culture, the seven of us could usually be found on any given day of the week at local community or church events and celebrations.  As guests in the community, we were often asked to fulfill special roles during such celebrations throughout the year.  But when it came to the star power that garnered lead acting roles in traditional pageantry, Conor had the rest of us volunteers beat.  Who could compete with the blond-haired, blue-eyed, 6 foot 2, 22-year-old from Connecticut, who had already portrayed St. Joseph on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus on Christmas Day, and Jesus on Palm Sunday?  That’s why it came as no surprise when Conor came home one day and told us that he had been asked to play Simon of Cyrene in the live version of the stations of the cross, which would be reenacted throughout the streets of our neighborhood on Good Friday. 

While the rest of us volunteers would wrap ourselves in bedsheets as costumes and humbly participate as the extras spread out on the road to Calvary, Conor would once again have the spotlight with his character not only having a name but a speaking role as well.  Simon of Cyrene.  And while our neighbors obviously saw Conor as the perfect representation of all of these characters, it is more likely that Simon, being from modern-day Libya, was a person of color; and Jesus and Joseph from Palestine aren’t likely to have looked much like Conor either.  In fact, Conor was more likely to resemble a mythical Santa Claus than any of the other roles he played.

While European art depicting images of Jesus and his companions looking more like Conor than the historical Jesus of Nazareth remain prevalent throughout Latin America; more recent reflections, particularly among Black Christians, honor the racial identities of these historical figures, including Simon of Cyrene – the one pressed into service to help God carry his cross.  In Simon, we bear witness to the oppressed helping the oppressed – an exemplar of solidarity.  In just one verse from St. Mark, Simon’s story speaks not only to the realities of oppression, but also to the dignity of the oppressed.

So what does this mean for all of us?  Unlike Conor, we aren’t all asked to see ourselves in Simon’s physical attributes (although some of us might).  But we are all invited to symbolically identify with the one who helped God carry his cross.  Each of us can identify with Simon’s story in different ways.  We might ask ourselves:

Like Simon, how are we invited into service during this upcoming Holy Week and beyond?

Like Simon, how are we able to walk in solidarity with people who have been condemned? 

And how have the people we support through Catholic Charities been condemned?

Immigrant families from across the globe – if they are able to navigate the U.S. immigration system – are more often than not condemned to wait years, decades even, to be reunited.

Asylum seekers are condemned as they are denied entrance or expelled from the United States; left only with fear and uncertainty.

Refugees are condemned to flee their homes, because of violence or persecution, to start over in a different country far from family and all they’ve ever known.

And finally, at any given moment, some of us might more readily identify with the ones who have been condemned – there is much struggle and suffering and grieving in our own families.   

During our Lenten pilgrimages, as we are invited into service like Simon, we continue to pray for mercy.  We pray that we may recognize the power and dignity within the condemned as well as the power and dignity within each one of us.  Or as the volunteers in Ecuador would say, “Que encontremos el Rostro de Cristo en cada persona.”  May we encounter the face of Christ in everyone.

Calling for Mercy

You may remember during the 3rd week of Lent you were invited to contact Congress and the Biden administration to express concerns about Title 42 and how it denies people the right to seek asylum at U.S. ports of entry.  Last Friday the CDC announced Title 42 would end on May 23, 2022.  To read more about this decision, click here

Catholic Social Teaching tells us to “welcome the stranger,” and that call may be challenging to reconcile within ourselves as the narrative of immigrants and migrants obscures the humanitarian needs of these people. the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), of which we are an affiliate member, has released a statement in support of the Title 42 changes, which you can read here.