A personal impact statement from Father Frank Alagna

frank alagnaFather Frank Alagna was among the group of people who initiated the Ulster Immigrant Defense Network to address the safety of immigrants in our community.

Tuesday Night at the Ulster County Legislative Counsel Meeting 

Christians believe that Jesus is God made Man. We refer to this as the mystery of the Incarnation. We understand God’s embrace of our humanity as His having made Himself one with us in ALL things except sin. And yet, while Jesus did not sin, we also believe that He did take upon Himself the burden of our sins. Further, we believe that His willingness “to bear our sins” brought Him to the cross and brought humanity to salvation.

After 71+ years of trying to live the Christian life, I believe that I had an identifiable experience of what the expression “bearing sins” might mean and what it might actually look and feel like to do so.

On Tuesday evening, June 20, I attended a meeting of the Ulster Legislative Council.  I was there for nearly three hours, and, as I was driving home, I became aware of feeling sick to my stomach and even sicker in my soul. When I awoke the following morning, the feeling of physical, psychological, and even spiritual devastation lingered.

I struggled to understand what this blackness was all about. Oh, yes, I was disappointed to hear, upon my arrival home, the Spectrum News report that Resolution 138 had gone down in defeat. The resolution, if passed, would have made Ulster a Sanctuary County. While I had expected this outcome, my experience of being vanquished preceded the news report; moreover, the disappointing news report alone could not account for the deep pit in which I found myself.

During the meeting, more than 40 people got up to speak to both sides of the issue – pro and con Sanctuary identification for our County. However, one objection to the resolution was stunning to the point of it being surreal. A woman came to the microphone and said that we should all know that the conversion rate to Islam was higher in Mexico than anywhere else – and, that this was a fact. In other words, among the undocumented million who have crossed our southern border, we must see not only the “murderers, rapists, and drug dealers” that Trump sees, but also a horde of Islamic terrorists.

Her objection was indeed stunning, but her conviction about it was even more so. It literally took my breath away, and certainly not in any rapturous way; rather, it sucked the air out of my lungs and drained a measure of soul from my body. How could someone be so ignorant and so imprisoned in her own ignorance? Then, I witnessed any number of those sitting in the chamber nodding their heads in agreement with the words of the “truth” she bore. In retrospect, I think this is where my downward spiral began.

I have no problem hearing thoughtful reflections and concerns of those on the other side. People are entitled to their opinions, even if these are different from my own. While others may have reasons that I might not find as compelling as my own, at least they have reasoned their way to a different conclusion. That’s OK. However, contrived, calculated, and willful stupidity that seeks and finds an audience, as it did in that County Chamber, is a horse of another color. But, even this was not enough to account for the experience that seemed to pull the ground out from under me.

Earlier in the meeting, a young Latina mother, with the help of a translator, shared her story of her husband having recently being taken into custody and being held in detention for probable deportation. She acknowledged that he had done something wrong, but she pleaded with the Council to appreciate that the “crime” in no way merited what appears will be the inevitable consequence. Since her husband and father of their two-year-old son was taken away, the little boy spends his days wandering about the house searching for his Papa. As she shared her story, the translator was moved to tears – as were others in the room – however, there appeared far too many who were not moved in any way.

I had spent three hours in a crowded room in which genuine compassion appeared to be in very short supply. The air in the room was thereby rendered so toxic, again, not because the people there held and shared different understandings, but because too many seemed to be bereft of any semblance of one of the most basic ingredients of humanity: Compassion. There appeared to be too many in the chamber who could not, or would not, feel this very human emotion. Instead, they seemed to find more significance in the gravity of the lawlessness involved in crossing a national border without authorization. Not to experience some measure of empathy; not to respond with some measure of genuine compassion in the face of human suffering; and not to be able to feel the deep anguish of this mother and her innocent child – this is what chilled my soul. How, it must be asked, will our humanity be preserved? If we cannot surrender the harsh consequences attached to violating non-criminal infractions, and instead give ourselves leave to violate the sanctity of families, what future can we possibly anticipate?

Having sat in that chamber, I now understand, in a way that I never before understood, the meaning of the biblical phrase “to bear sins.” It is nothing less than an experience of sheer and utter agony. The only consolation I can find in a moment such as this, are a few words spoken by the Divine Bearer of all our sins: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The Rev. Frank J. Alagna, Ph.D.

Holy Cross/Santa Cruz Episcopal Church

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