Author: Pastor Krista

Sunday is a high holy day in the Vingelis/McNulty house. It’s Saint Patrick’s Day! The luck ‘o the Irish be wit ya! Of course, on St. Patrick’s Day, the whole world is Irish. People drink green beer and wear green clothes. They line the streets and watch the dancers in their pretty Gaelic dresses and shoes jig their way down the parade routes. And many will try their hand at corned beef and cabbage. Erin go Bragh!! Slainte!

My mom is a first-generation Irish American. Both of her parents immigrated to the United States in the 1920’s. At that time, Irish immigrants were not quite as vilified as they had been decades prior. They were still considered dirty, drunk and uneducated BUT because St. Patrick’s Day celebrations had become such a popular tradition in the United States, they were FUN, dirty, drunk and uneducated.

You didn’t know Irish immigrants were considered a scourge on America? Under British colonization, most Irish citizens were poor. They survived by eating an average of more than 10lbs of potatoes per day. But the Great Potato Famine of the mid-1840’s brought widespread hunger, disease and death to Ireland. Approximately 1 million Irish citizens died of hunger and 2 million fled to America. According to it was the largest population movement of the 19th century.

But despite the fact that St. Patrick’s Day had been celebrated on “American soil” since before it was even “American soil,” these immigrants and refugees were considered the scourge of the nation. They were labeled as disease-ridden and unskilled and a major drain on the welfare systems. They were feared for being Catholic and thought to want to take-over Protestant America. They were hated for taking “American jobs from Americans.” The Know-Nothing political party established itself on the basis of fighting the scourge and electing only Protestant American citizens. As a matter of fact, the Know-Nothings were known for starting violent riots in Catholic Irish neighborhoods just so Irish immigrants would be seen as hostile and aggressive.

When I moved in 2006 to a small town in rural PA, I did a LOT of funerals in my first two years of ministry. Most of them were buried in the local P.O.S. of A cemetery. I didn’t pay much attention until my dad emailed me and said, “You know that’s an anti-Irish organization, don’t you?” No, I didn’t. But indeed, the Patriotic Order Sons of America was an anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant (Irish) fraternal organization created by the Know-Nothing Society. After opposing unrestricted immigration of the Irish, they also opposed immigration from Eastern Europe and China. I learned that even into the mid to late 1900’s there had been a local chapter of the KKK which terrorized the Catholic residents of town. The Protestants burned crosses on the lawns of their Catholic neighbors from Eastern Europe!

Why am I sharing all of this with you? Because this year, St. Patrick’s Day falls within the holy month of Ramadan for our Muslim neighbors. While not all Muslims are Arabic or Palestinian in descent, recent years have seen a surge in migration from the Middle East. Other migration surges have come to America from the southern hemisphere. While not Muslim, what these two groups have in common is being people of different skin colors, languages, cultures, religions, and socio-economic levels. These are immigrants and refugees who are being accused of being a scourge on our society – of being disease-ridden, crime-ridden, unskilled and uneducated and of being a drain on our welfare systems. They are accused of wanting to take over “Christian America” and of taking “American jobs from Americans.”

But the Know-Nothings were wrong then and those who espouse these same false sentiments are wrong now. As followers of Jesus, we recall that Abraham and the ancient Israelites were aliens in a strange land. They were immigrants taken in during times of famine and homelessness and fed by foreign nations, given new opportunities for life and welfare. Jesus himself was a refugee in Egypt when Herod sought to take his young life. His family relied on the kindness of strangers to give them a place to be safe and to make a home for themselves, for whatever time it needed to be. This was the central mark of hospitality in the ancient world. And hospitality such as this is a central mark of the Kingdom of God in Scripture.

My hope and prayer this St. Patrick’s Day is that the day is coming when, like the Irish, we will no longer see our neighbors of different cultures and colors as our enemies – as a plague upon our nation. I pray the day is coming when we might celebrate together, just as all peoples celebrate St. Patrick’s Day together.

And so, this St. Patrick’s Day, I say to our immigrant and refugee neighbors, not “Erin go Bragh” or “Ireland Forever!” but instead, “Cead mile failte.” In other words, welcome – a hundred thousand welcomes.