Last week I was away for a few days in New York City, stayed with friars on 31st Street just around the corner from Penn Station and had a few days free to walk around the city. Stepping out the door onto the sidewalk in the morning is like merging into traffic on the highway. It’s a fast-paced city. One of the highlights of my time there was a visit to the Museum of Modern Art. I wanted to see an exhibition there called “The Migration Series” by the African-American artist Jacob Lawrence.
“The Migration Series” is a set of sixty paintings, shown together which tells the story of the migration of African-Americans from the American South to the North in the early years of the 20th century. All sixty paintings are exhibited together in a gallery at the museum and they are numbered 1-60. You can linger a while at each one. Why did blacks move north? It was the promise of opportunity, the promise of better jobs, and of course it was also to escape oppressive conditions in the south.
You walk through the gallery and follow the series and you see the movement of a population that crowds the train stations to go north; you see the poverty of a population that has only a pot hanging on the wall and a few bare scraps to eat at the table; you see one haunting scene of a lone figure next to a tree with a hanging noose; you see one scene with an image of a resurrected Christ in the background, an image of hope for the journey north.
Migration, of course is still very much part of our world, as we continue to hear about people from Africa who crowd onto boats in places like Libya, hoping to find a better life in Europe or beyond. Pope Francis has been outspoken in his concern for migrants seeking a better life in other lands. Our own migrant ministry here at St. Francis seeks to reach out to migrants who work in fields not far from here.
The Holy Family itself – Joseph, Mary, the child Jesus – were migrants as they made the journey from Bethlehem to Egypt to escape the threat of King Herod. The Church has always had a concern for those who are displaced, on the move, on the run from a place of oppression to a place of freedom – all of that was within the experience of the child Jesus himself, and He must have known and remembered that throughout His life.
“The Migration Series” is worth seeing if you’re in New York. This current exhibition is a rare time when all sixty works are together in one place – usually 30 are in New York and the other 30 are in Washington. They are considered to be masterworks of American art of the mid-20th century.
Finally, our Franciscan School put on a terrific production of The Little Mermaid over five days last week. I looked in on the rehearsals ahead of time and I can say they put in a lot of work and we have a lot of talent in our school. Fantastic job!
Blessings on your week….