Saturday, November 18, 2017
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
Children learn in school the story of that first Thanksgiving organized by those Pilgrims from England at Plymouth Colony way back in 1621. But, for those who know, the very first Thanksgiving Day took place near St. Augustine, Florida, not in 1621 but in 1565 on September 8th when the Spanish explorer, Pedro Menendez de Avila, and his companions attended Mass followed by a meal with the natives.
According to the noted historian Michael Gannon, the now deceased UF professor of Florida history, that Thanksgiving Mass and meal was the first communal act of religion and thanksgiving in the first permanent European settlement in North America. And it happened years before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock!
Both those who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony and those who founded St. Augustine, in the words of Pope Francis, spoken to Congress in September 2015, “came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom.”
Since the Pilgrims were not Catholic but Protestant, few of us can claim that our ancestors came over on the Mayflower but, here in South Florida, there are no doubt quite a few people who could possibly claim that some of their distant relations were with Pedro Menendez de Aviles in St. Augustine. But all of us are immigrants or descended from immigrants. Even America’s aboriginal populations migrated across the Bering Strait.
On Thanksgiving Day, most of us will sit down to a sumptuous feast prepared from the great bounty of American agriculture. Let us be grateful to the farmers, and the truckers, and the grocers that make it all possible. And let’s us be especially grateful to the more than two million farm workers many with Hispanic surnames who pick fruits and vegetables in Florida and California, who harvest apples in the Pacific Northwest and parts of New England, and peaches and tobacco in the southern states, and who work in poultry, dairy, and livestock farms in the Midwest and parts of the Southwest. Half of them are undocumented and all of them work long hours in the most dangerous of occupations, exposed to pesticides and the elements and unforgiving machinery.
Again, when Pope Francis spoke to Congress two years ago, he reminded our law makers, “ thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.”
Unfortunately, today in this “nation of immigrants” too many of us perceive the new immigrants as “troublesome.” Immigration has become in American politics a “wedge issue” with both left and right content with a stalemate that allows each side to appeal to their “base” in the meantime, a broken immigration system continues to disrupt lives and divide families and steal hope away from those who dream of “building a future in freedom” for themselves and their children.
As we give God thanks for the freedoms and opportunities that we Americans enjoy in this country a country that has been described “as a nation with the soul of a church,” we pray that we will become a more just and fraternal nation, a nation that is not afraid of the foreigner because we too were once foreigners.
Thanksgiving and the possibility of being thankful comes when we recognize that everything we have, everything we are thanks be to God we have received freely. And having received so many blessings not as some entitlement but as gifts from God should inspire us who have received freely to share these blessings freely with others.