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In a country being torn apart by Donald Trump's calls for mass deportation of Latino immigrants, building a Berlin Wall along the Mexican border and a ban on using Spanish in the United States, even while he justly criticizes Jeb Bush's attempt to stir up century-old prejudice against Asian immigrants by attacking birth tourism, Pope Francis is coming to the US with an expected message of compassion and support for immigrants.
"While it's highly unlikely the pope will endorse any particular piece of legislation during his speech to lawmakers - Catholic officials say know one knows exactly what he will say - he is expected to mention the need for greater compassion toward migrants.'I think he will appeal to our better angels,' said Kevin Appleby, director of migration policy at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 'He will remind us of our great tradition as an immigrant nation. He will tell us that we are a leader in the world, and that the world follows us on many issues, including immigration issues."
See: Donald Trump 2016: The Pope vs. The Donald
The Pope's support for immigration, both in Europe as it struggles with the Syrian refugee crisis (see above POLITICO story), and in opposition to appeals to bigotry in the US, is not surprising, given that Christianity itself owes much of its original growth to immigration during the Roman Empire, especially by members of the Jewish diaspora:
Paula Fredriksen, Professor of Scripture Emerita at Boston University and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, writes the following in her article: Christians in the Roman Empire in the First Three Centuries CE:
See: Chapter 29, A Companion to the Roman Empire (ed. D.S. Potter) Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Malden, MA, 2006.
"The Greek diaspora caused by Alexander the Great's victories had brought the Jewish one in tow... They [Greek settlers] drew new immigrants with them, among them ancient Jews...By the dawn of the Christian era, Jews had been settled for centuries everywhere in the Mediterranean world."
Even though, as far as we know, there was no ancient Donald Trump or Sarah Palin on hand calling for foreign languages to be banned or ordering foreign settlers to "Speak Greek", Jewish immigrants, over time, became thoroughly assimilated. Fredriksen continues:
"Establishing themselves in their new cities of residence, these Jews, over the course of four centuries, absorbed and adopted Greek language and culture."
Moreover, just as immigrants from many parts of the world were to do in America some two thousand years later, these ancient Jewish immigrants had a strong influence on the culture of the Greek-speaking world. As Fredriksen describes:
"Through this medium, [translations into Greek], Jewish ideas about divinity, worship, creation, ethics, piety and practice came to be broadcast in the international linguistic frequency...Their creative interpenetration would have enormous consequences for Western culture, as we shall see."
Even though assimilated, Jewish immigrants and their descendants were still allowed to maintain their separate identity and religious practices, even when they differed from those of the Greco-Roman environment around them. Not only were there no Arizona-type laws banning ethnic studies, but special legal accommodation was available for the immigrant Jewish communities, as Fredriksen informs us:
"...Jews negotiated exemptions [from activities dedicated to other gods] as they could, and so found ways to serve their city and their own traditions. Eventually, once Rome ruled the entire Mediterranean, such exemptions were written into imperial law (citations omitted)."
Central to these immigrant Jewish communities, then, as in modern times, was the synagogue (a Greek word, of course). However, unlike the general practice at the present time, synagogue membership in the ancient Greek and Greco-Roman cities also consisted of non-Jews ("pagans"), including some who adopted certain Jewish practices without converting to Judaism. Fredriksen explains:
"The synagogue fit comfortably into the religiously open environment o the Greco-Roman city, welcoming outsiders, while at the same time structuring and facilitating Jewish communal life."
As Fredriksen describes, this Jewish immigrant diaspora, with its synagogues open to Jews and non-Jews alike, was an ideal vehicle for the spread of early Christianity:
"Enter Paul, and other Jewish apostoloi of the first generation of the Christian movement...In the mid 30's (of the first century of the Christian Era), as the movement spread out from Judaea into Asia Minor and the cities of the Western Diaspora, its apostles followed the paths laid out by the network of Diaspora synagogues. These synagogues, unlike their counterparts in Galilee and Judaea, held significant numbers of pagans familiar with the idea of Israel, and with the Jewish scriptures. These pagans responded to earliest Christianity's apocalyptic message too."
There can be little doubt that when Pope Francis comes to America to exercise the well settled First Amendment right of religious organizations to speak out on immigration and other political/social/legislative issues (see Justice Kennedy's majority opinion in Obergell v. Hodges, June 26, 2015), he will be bringing back the spirit of acceptance and tolerance toward immigrants to which Christianity itself owed its ability to spread and become known throughout the world of Western civilization at the time of this great world religion's earliest beginning.
Unfortunately, tolerance toward Jewish and early Christian immigrants was not always the norm, especially with regard to Christians, who as history well knows, often encountered savage persecution in imperial Rome, and not only in the time of Emperor Nero.
Nor were Jewish immigrants and their descendants exempt from persecution in the form of mass deportations, as I will show in a forthcoming discussion of Emperor Claudius, who at least at certain times in his career, might well have been called the Donald Trump of Rome in the first century of the Christian Era.
Roger Algase is a New York immigration lawyer and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School. For more than 30 years, he has been helping mainly skilled and professional immigrants obtain work visas, green cards and US citizenship. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated 09-08-2015 at 11:59 AM by ImmigrationLawBlogs