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The original definition of Colossus was just a giant statue, whose prototype was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the statue of Apollo straddling the island of Rhodes. The twenty-first century definition has grown; it now includes any person or organization of immense power and influence. Thinking about the unfolding refugee crisis in Ukraine and President Biden’s initial decision to welcome 100,000 fleeing Ukrainians, mostly women and children, to our shores, it is easy to see that the United States is a colossus within NATO, Europe, and the world. And that as a nation, we still subscribe to the ideals expressed by the nineteenth century poet Emma Lazarus, in a poem inscribed in bronze at the base of the Statue of Liberty.
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
In the spring of 2022, it is easy to view these words through the lens of our television screens, with daily reports of Ukrainian refugees fleeing Russian agression at home. Here, we are prosperous and safe as we emerge from the two-year nightmare of COVID-19. We have record low unemployment numbers and can easily absorb refugees from across the world. Should we focus on Christians who look like the majority of Americans, as in Ukraine; or who are Christians but do not look like most of us, as in Latin America; or who are neither Christians nor look like us, but are nevertheless fleeing wartime violence, as in the Middle East? In answering those questions, we should be guided by Emma Lazarus’ words, inscribed even more deeply in our hearts than in the Statue of Liberty.