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At the National Prayer Breakfast today, for an audience that included religious leaders, foreign dignitaries from nearly 70 countries, and members of the United States Congress, Donald Trump asked for divine intervention for Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Specifically, the Donald prayed for the ratings of The Apprentice to go up. The series is now hosted by the Arnold who stepped in after Donald decided the White House would be a great setting to hone his game show skills.

A few decades before he became governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger moved to the United States from Austria where his family, like many in the country, were devout Roman Catholics, and where his father was a member of a political party that was declared illegal after World War II.

Neither his faith nor his father’s past, though, prevented Arnold from pursuing his dream of becoming a citizen of the United States, making a fortune, and marrying the niece of President John F. Kennedy.

Both Arnold and Donald are Republicans. House Republicans are not sure if Donald’s new executive order on refugees provides preferential treatment for some religions. Arnold himself has spoken out against the executive order.

Pursuing dreams in the United States has been very much an option for people of all faith traditions for centuries. My own family were poor farmers in the “Old Country” who barely eked out an existence from the land they depended on year after year (and which is still owned by the branch of the family that stayed in Bavaria). It took a lot of faith for them to survive, and even more faith for those who left for a better but uncertain life in the United States.

Truth be told, the American Dream didn’t come easy at first for my family. My grandfather, one of 16 children, did not make it past eighth grade. He and my grandmother worked many years in low-paying, exhausting jobs to support their six children. Their eldest child, though, my mother, did go to college — the first person from her family to make it that far in the New World. After many of her children, most of whom were born when she was a teenager, received college degrees, my grandmother enrolled at a university when she was 50. Before she was 60 she had earned her master’s degree.

I never heard my mother and grandmother bemoan what many today would consider tough circumstances, where money was scarce and hunting was a necessity rather than a leisure sport. In their small, rural, immigrant town filled with Bavarian names, they were surrounded by other immigrant families who left the Old Country before the early 1920s when Catholic immigration to the United States was virtually halted.

I wish the new occupant of the White House would consider faith more than a joke intentionally directed at Arnold Schwarzenegger, an immigrant who exercised his right to freedom of speech to criticize one of Donald Trump’s more baffling executive orders. Most of us, Donald Trump included, can go back a few generations and find in our family histories many good reasons why our forefathers and foremothers left their home countries and paved the way for us to enjoy opportunities they did not have. After more careful consideration of the complex issue of refugees seeking a better life, shouldn’t new generations from all corners of the world also be given that chance?

 

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