From Deacon Greg Masztal St. Paul’s, Modesto
I am sure many of us have had parents or grandparents, or even great-grandparents tell of their journeys in coming to this country. These stories become part of the oral history of our families because they describe the struggles our elders faced and gives the family a vision of where we came from and where we’re going.
Our 1st generation forbears faced great hurdles in coming here. My father who raised me told us of his parents who came here from Central Europe, and could barely speak any English. They landed in this country, moved into slum areas, and faced insults and assaults while trying to make a new home. In spite of their difficulties these United States were far better for them compared to facing starvation or extermination where they came from.
My father’s dad died when my dad was still a child, leaving his widow with seven children to raise while this country was in the midst of the Great Depression, when jobs were scarce and foreigners were blamed. To survive, the family pulled together as one, with each child sent out to find some way of earning enough to bring back at the end of the day to contribute to the family’s need.
My Dad told me how he was sent out at age 7 to walk the railroad tracks with his brothers each carrying a bucket. By filling up a bucket of coal that had fallen off passing trains they could earn a penny a bucket that went to help pay medical bills for whichever family member was in need.
By relating these tough circumstances to me, my Dad taught me the value of coming together as a family community, each caring for the other, and each person working hard to contribute. My Dad called it hustling. “You need to hustle to make your mark.” My Dad was proud when he was able to buy his own home.
When World War II came, he volunteered to serve this new country of his in the Navy, fighting in cruisers and battleships in 5″ gun emplacements, eventually being seriously wounded when his ship was sunk by a kamikaze attack off of Okinawa. He spent almost a year in hospitals, and walked with a limp the rest of his life, but he never gave up that spirit of hustling–working hard.
As I joined Bishop David for a day walking the Pilgrimage of Hope I couldn’t help think of my adopted family. In the fields we walked by I saw that same spirit of struggle and hustle, people working hard to earn enough to help raise their succeeding generation to build this Dream called America. One woman who walked with us didn’t own a car, and walked everywhere, so was able to keep up with a grueling pace that wore me out!
Her mother was working in the field we stopped at, and while the Bishop offered a blessing she helped her mother dress sweet potato plants for later re-planting. In the stroller she was pushing was her granddaughter who she cared for, because the child’s mother was deported, but left the girl behind in the hope that she would have a better life here.
As I walked I found that these people were not strangers to me. In fact they were just like the family that raised me. Life seems to be a circle, and here I was, the result of two earlier generations working terribly hard, finding people who were working terribly hard to make a new life for their children and grandchildren. I wondered how many of those children and grandchildren would go on to fight and serve their new country.
When Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbor?” he didn’t just tell of some strangers along the way, but used an example of a Samaritan–a group of people that were hated by many descendants of the Exile to Babylon, since the Samaritans remained in Judea and the surrounding areas while the upper classes were forcibly removed to exile.
I found deep meaning in this walk. I found strangers who were just like my family, and I found people who were easy to love just as Jesus calls us to love everyone. Politicians of any party seem lacking in ideas to fix various laws, and this was not much different in Jesus’ day. As Christians, though, we are called look past politics, and to see in the eyes of each stranger we meet another member of our family. It is this love that will overcome the darkness of this age, and lead us to a new Jerusalem.