By Jennifer Owens-Jofré
Los pollitos dicen
Pío, pío, pío
Cuando tienen hambre
Cuando tienen frío
La gallina busca
El maíz y el trigo
Les da la comida
Y les presta abrigo
Bajo sus dos alas
Hasta el otro día
Duerman los pollitos
I have fond memories of my mom singing this lullaby at bedtime when my brother and I were small. We said our prayers, asking God’s blessings on each member of our family, near and far. As she brushed the unruly curls back from my face with her hand, she sang “Los Pollitos” to us, and its sweet melody and that intimacy with our mom accompanied us to sleep. The imagery of the song surely is familiar to many, and it is comforting: A mother hen feeds her little ones as they call to her, and they find rest beneath the protection of her wings.
Jesus refers to himself with a similar image in the Gospels. After he denounces the unjust actions of the Pharisees, we hear, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37, NRSVCE). For generations, the passage preceding his lament over Jerusalem was interpreted in ways that support anti-Semitism, but more recently, New Testament scholars have come to understand Jesus as a faithful Jewish man who aimed to root out religious and political corruption. In Matthew 23:37, he judges not all who lived in the Jerusalem of his day, but any religious or civic entity that rejects its prophets and makes of them martyrs. Jesus, the mother hen, calls to accountability the community that shaped him.
These two images of the mother hen—the one that provides and protects with gentleness and the one that calls the community to accountability—need one another. And I think they have something to say to people of faith and to Catholics in particular during these troubled times. Rooted in Scripture and part of our tradition, the principles of Catholic social teaching call on us to provide and to protect with gentleness, as well as call to accountability our religious and civic leaders. Drawing on Rerum Novarum, the USCCB outlines three further principles that can guide the consciences of Catholics on the issue of migration:
- “People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.
- A country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration.
- A country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy.”
If you are a Catholic who is concerned about the growing numbers of children and families whom the US has begun to detain as they cross the southern border with Mexico, I encourage you to reflect on the rights and responsibilities our bishops have outlined, as well as to what you are called. In recent days, I have spent time in prayer and reflection on these issues, and these are the actions to which I feel called.
- I feel called to pray for protection of those children who were separated from their parents, in the hopes of reunification; for gentleness to touch the lives of those parents who have been separated from their children, as well as those families who are in detention together; for those who construct and enforce the policies that affect the lives of these migrants and refugees, that they would be converted from practices that oppress the stranger among us to the practices of welcome to which we are called as Catholics and as Christians; and for the rest of us, that we would take a stand for justice and for mercy on this and other issues affecting our nation and our world.
- I feel called to inform myself and to do the work of consciousness raising, or sharing what I have learned about this issue, those it affects most deeply and most directly, and the resources Catholic teaching brings to bear on it.
- I feel called to act in a way that reflects my conscience. I have begun to reach out to my elected officials to encourage them to support just and humane immigration reform, and I have taken part in two public witnesses calling for an end to detention for migrant and refugee children and families. I also intend to donate to PICO California to show my support for the work they are doing on this issue.
Last weekend, over 1,000 people marched alongside Pastor Ben McBride of PICO California and Bishop Robert McElroy of the Catholic Diocese of San Diego to Otay Mesa Road in San Ysidro, CA, where migrant and refugee children and families are being held in detention. As we marched, we chanted, “No están solos! No están solos!” (“You are not alone! You are not alone!”) Almost as soon as the chant died down, we heard, from the other side of the barbed wire fence, the voices of children shouting back to us, echoing off the high walls of the detention center. The chorus of little cries brought tears to my eyes as I walked in the heat of the afternoon, weeping for the little ones who would not hear the lullabies of their mothers that night and in the nights to come, weeping for those in our country who have yet to heed calls to accountability for the policies that cage these children and families. Today, our faith calls on us to be mother hens—to provide comfort and protection to these little ones and to call to accountability those who threaten that protection.
Jennifer Owens-Jofré is a Catholic theologian in formation writing from a mujerista perspective at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. She studied Sociology and Peace Studies as an undergraduate at Loyola Marymount University, and she graduated with a Master of Arts in Teaching from the same institution. Soon after, Jennifer earned her Master of Divinity from Harvard University. Having worked in Catholic contexts across the United States, she also offers professional development opportunities for those in ministry. Currently, Jennifer is working on her dissertation, which explores the implications of devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe at a Latinx Catholic parish in the greater Los Angeles area for Mariology and ministry.