This May 21 is “The Celebration of World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.” This celebration refers us to the migratory reality as a bearer of cultural diversity. In this writing we will reflect from a biblical, socioeconomic, and ecclesial perspective the cultural richness that migration brings. That is,  throughout history, human mobility has been the creator of current societies.

The people of Israel has diverse cultural roots and migrants

The Israelites were made up of tribes (twelve is used symbolically), of diverse social and cultural groups, from their own various beliefs, worldviews, and ways of organizing themselves in the territories. In general, it can be said that some cultural groups were nomadic and others sedentary; this has been highlighted in their way of relating to, organizing, and preparing food. The nomads were more dedicated to caring for animals (livestock) and the sedentary tribes specialized in agriculture. The nomads and sedentary people maintained a cultural conflict, as written in the narrative of Cain and Abel, which describes a violent episode between the brothers (Gn. 4).

The roots of the people of Israel are based on the cultural diversity of tribes and human mobility, as witnessed by Abraham, “Yahweh said to Abraham: ‘Leave your country, those of your race and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing’” (Gn. 12:1).

It is in this cultural, religious, and worldview diversity of life that the God who walks in history acted in a liberating way, hearing the cry in Egypt (Ex. 3). The entire narrative of the book of Exodus is an example of God’s liberating “option”  or preference for these ethnic groups, who lived a common experience of slavery by the Egyptian empire. These diverse peoples came together in a liberating process, where they recognized that God acted liberating them, in the same way for all, regardless of their cultural roots: nomadic or sedentary.

These diverse cultural groups that had migrated to Egypt in search of food and security experienced the historical presence of the God who wanted them free to constitute them as one people. That is why the founding experience of Israel as a people will be the fact of the Liberation from Egypt by the “hand” of the God who liberates. This experience will unite them as a people, and the diversity of cultures and beliefs will be the richness of the new people: the people of God (Ex. 3–15).

From this social and theological perspective, migration and cultural diversity are part of the identity of that people of God; therefore, the migrant (foreigner) who arrives in their lands cannot be treated badly (Dt. 24:17–18). The people of Israel had a mandate in their principles of faith and ethics: you will not “oppress foreigners, since you were also foreigners in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 22:21). The historical memory of the people is important to understand their identity. In the same way, the people of Israel had the conviction that they were a people made up of a great diversity of ethnic groups that had migrated, and that together they had freed themselves, with intervention by the God who wants people to be free. 

Globalization, migration, and cultural diversity

Globalization as a hegemonic world system arose from the impulse of neoliberalism. At present, the complexity created by globalization goes beyond the market economy; it is “cybernetic” communication. The 2020 Nobel laureate in economics, Joseph Stiglitz, makes references to the failure of neoliberalism as a globalized system, as the cause of social and economic inequality, which has impoverished households in Latin America, and is one of the causes of forced migration.

A reality that favors the development of people is that the migrant generates capital through remittances to their relatives in their countries of origin. In the year 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, both Mexican and Central American migrants exceeded the remittances of the year 2019. The migrant is a contributor to the financial flow, being an economic and social subject for the country where they work and to where they remit. It seems that globalization and neoliberal governments allow capital to pass without being stopped at the border, but not the migrants who bring economic and cultural wealth to the new lands where they live. The richness of the culture that migrants carry is not “capitalized” as a value that enriches nations. There is no culture without humans, and there is no established society that does not have human migration in its historical roots.

We recommend the “Immigration Nation” miniseries on Netflix. This documentary portrays the shortcomings of the United States immigration system, with a unique and broad look at its nuances. Here is the trailer on YouTube

The Christian before the gift of culture that the migrant brings

This May 9, 2022, in San Juan de Letrán Pope Francis signed his message for the day of the migrant and refugee that will take place in September. There, he highlights the cultural, social, and human wealth of the migrant upon reaching other lands. What is needed is that the peoples can see the migrant as a “brother/sister” belonging to their culture. The pope invites us to broaden our gaze, recognizing the contribution of the migrant, 

Their work, their capacity for sacrifice, their youth, and their enthusiasm enrich the communities that welcome them. But this contribution could be much greater if it were valued and supported through programs. This is a huge potential, soon to manifest, if given the chance.”

Christians and Franciscans are called to see in the migrant, a human, a brother and sister, a citizen, an “other” who carries a cultural and social diversity that will bring us quality of life. We must welcome each migrant in all their diversity, like that other different and equal to us; knowing that we are creatures that are members of this unique common home, where the atmosphere and the air is the same for everyone. We can welcome the migrant as that other who has a different face and color, who becomes a gift on the path of life. 

Francis of Assisi said, “the Lord gave me brothers” (Thess. 14), therefore, each human who comes to us with all their cultural diversity is a gift from God. The migrant is the neighbor who is at our doors, parks, roads, and rivers, looking for someone who welcomes him with the same tenderness and kindness, as if he were Jesus (Mt.25:43).

For those of us who feel inspired and encouraged by the Francis-Clarian charism, it is good to go back to the story of Brother Francis of Assisi’s meeting with the Sultan of Egypt. It’s a meeting with few exact historical data, but with a transcendent meaning in relation to the meeting of two different cultures, religions, societies, and territories. Here we leave you the article from the previous year so that you can continue reading about the importance of raising awareness of the richness of cultural diversity: Internal link: 

Migration: a meeting of views, knowledge and cultures

I invite you to ask yourself and your loved ones how they could define the word “migrant.” Look closely at their gestures and physical response and tell us if their answers invite us to a Christian perspective or not. And let us know about your experience here in the comments. 

Photo: Eric Luna

Br. Rene Flores, OFM. Salvadoran, franciscan friar, lay option. Member of the franciscan province, “Our Lady of Guadalupe”, of Central America, and foundation in Haiti.
Animator and head of JPIC-OFM in Panama, Member of the RFM in Panama, Experience in management and administration of educational centers (19 years), animator and facilitator of JPIC teams (16 years), Coordinator and facilitator of training processes with agents of pastoral (35 years).

Bachelor of theology. UCA, El Salvador
Diploma in educational administration. URLs. Guatemala
Master’s degree in educational research. UCA. El Salvador
Diploma in political incidence in Human Rights. UCA. El Salvador
Studies at the Superior School of Franciscanism, ESEF. Madrid. Spain.

He currently resides in La Pintada, Panama.

Franciscan Network for Migrants