“Rise, Take the Child and His Mother” and Flee to Egypt: A Scriptural Refrain that Echoes with Today’s Migrants

A family was in flight from a brutal regime. Not knowing where to turn for safety in their own land, they packed what they could carry and fled to a nearby welcoming country, where they waited, protected until a change in national leadership finally made it safe to return home.

The story is familiar to Christians. The Gospel of Matthew (2:13-23) tells the story of the Holy Family escaping the brutal rule of Herod the Great. They fled to Egypt, where they were safe from what Matthew describes as Herod’s order to kill all boys younger than age 2, in order to eliminate the Messiah whose birth had been announced to him by the Magi.

But it also is the story of many of the contemporary 65 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, whether to safer parts of their own countries or to adjacent nations.

The Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, observed on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, just after Christmas, is the second Scriptural story during the season to focus on their status as migrants – the first being Mary and Joseph’s trek to Judea to register for the census just before Jesus was born.

The experiences of Mary and Joseph resonate with today’s immigrants and refugees. Sometimes people leave their homelands with every intention of returning quickly: “as soon as I earn enough to buy my family a house in my country;” “as soon as the soldiers and rebels stop fighting in my city;” or “as soon as the police can get rid of the gang tormenting my children.”

Others flee situations so difficult they assume it’s a one-way journey. Wars, famine, environmental destruction, crime, political and religious oppression or inescapable poverty can all compel someone to permanently leave home.

People in all of these situations are served by the 330 nonprofit immigration organizations that make up the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC. The members of the network range from one- or two-person operations like the Crosier Community in Phoenix, to large, archdiocesan Catholic Charities agencies with numerous staff attorneys and accredited representatives who assist thousands of immigrants a year.

The last year brought a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety for many immigrants. Among the major unsettling actions and proposals were: the cancelation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA; the termination of Temporary Protected Status for several countries and impending decisions on cancelation for several more; changed priorities for deportation and other enforcement; increased use of detention for people who had no criminal records; changed criteria for visa approvals; reductions in the number of refugees admitted; and proposals to eliminate a foundational principle of American policy, family-based immigration.

Through it all, the members of the network established by the U.S. bishops in 1988 to serve low-income immigrants have stepped to the fore.

In the Archdioceses of Miami and Boston, that has meant significant efforts to help Haitians whose TPS status will expire in 2019 to figure out their options. Is there a relative living in the U.S. whose legal status would allow them to sponsor their TPS-holding family members?

In dozens of cities, that has meant legal services agencies gathered staff and volunteers on evenings and weekends to help screen thousands of immigrants from around the world, to evaluate whether they might have overlooked a path to legal residency in the United States. In a project to screen 3,000 immigrants in southern states last spring, 15.4 percent of the people whose applications were reviewed were found to have a likely path to legal status. Several people turned out to already be U.S. citizens—derived from having a citizen parent, typically—but were unaware of it.

And throughout the country, reaching out to vulnerable immigrants has been as essential as sharing know-your-rights materials, teaching families what documents they should prepare in case someone is unexpectedly taken into custody for deportation and as simple as providing a card to carry with an immigration attorney’s phone number. Meanwhile, in response to inquiries from parishes and other faith communities about how to help immigrants, we’ve developed resources to guide discernment for shaping a community response.

The year ahead will likely be even more difficult for millions of immigrant families, as policies changed in 2017 are fully implemented. As we begin our 30th year as CLINIC, we will remain vigilant and attentive.

Patricia Zapor is Communications Director at Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)



Going Deeper
Visit www.sharethejourney.org to find inspiring stories of hope and to learn about ways to take action in support of refugees and immigrants, such as resources for parishes, and how to send a letter to your legislator. Take action by being part of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) in Washington, DC, February 3-6.

Turning a “contemplative gaze” toward our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters

Building on his September launch of the “Share the Journey” campaign in support of migrants and refugees, Pope Francis’ Message for the 51st World Day of Peace (Jan. 1) invites Catholics to embrace those who endure perilous journeys and hardships in order to find peace. He urges people of faith to turn with a “contemplative gaze” towards migrants and refugees, opening our hearts to the “gaze of faith which sees God dwelling in their houses, in their streets and squares.”

In his Message, Pope Francis echoes St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, pointing to war, conflict, genocide, ethnic cleansing, poverty, lack of opportunity, and environmental degradation as reasons that families and individuals become refugees and migrants.

Four “mileposts for action” are necessary in order to allow migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and trafficking victims the opportunity to find peace. These include:

  1. Welcoming, which calls for “expanding legal pathways for entry” and better balancing national security and fundamental human rights concerns;
  2. Protecting, or recognizing and defending “the inviolable dignity of those who flee”;
  3. Promoting, which entails “supporting the integral human development of migrants and refugees”; and
  4. Integrating by allowing migrants and refugees to “participate fully in the life of society that welcomes them.” Doing so enriches both those arriving and those welcoming.

How can we, as Catholics, respond to Pope Francis’ powerful words in this year’s message?  What are we called to?

Here are three ideas.

  1. Pray with a “contemplative gaze.” Pray for the grace to approach issues around migrants and refugees from a starting point of faith and prayer.
    Encounter the stories of migrants and refugees on this handout and at ShareJourney.org and then pray for those families and individuals.
    You may also try one of these prayer practices to enrich your experience of prayer for our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters.
  1. Learn. Visit ShareJourney.org to read the stories of families and individuals who are migrants and refugees and to learn how you can respond. Visit WeAreSaltandLight.org to learn how faith communities are answering the call to welcome migrants and refugees.
  2. Act. Join tens of thousands of Catholics to advocate for policies that support migrants and refugees in the U.S. and those experiencing poverty or conflict around the world. For current action alerts, visit ConfrontGlobalPoverty.org and JusticeForImmigrants.org.

Together and with God’s help, we can seek peace for all people, including those who are migrants and refugees.

This text is excerpted from the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development handout for the World Day of Peace 2018, which is also available in Spanish.

Persecution: Solidarity in Suffering

Persecution of Christians and other religious minorities is not a abstract concern for me. It is deeply personal.

Two years ago in Erbil, Iraq, I looked out the window of my hotel to see tents packed together on the grounds of a chapel.  Christian families, displaced from Mosul, now lived in tents.  I remember strolling through the narrow, mud-caked paths among the tents.  Families, many with young children, shyly peered out from their tents. In one tent there were 2 families and 11 persons.

In a “deluxe” camp for displaced Christians, families lived in “caravans” (small trailer homes).  I remember seeing blankets and mattresses neatly stacked in a corner, a silent testimony to the family members who shared one room.  A mother broke down in tears as she described their night flight from Mosul from the Islamic State (ISIS).  They fled with only the clothes on their backs.

In Dohuk, north of Erbil, I met a 34-year-old Yezidi policeman.  His family of 8 fled on foot to Mount Sinjar where they spent 12 days with little food in scorching summer conditions, hiding from ISIS.  Kurdish fighters rescued them.  They now lived in one room in a nearby village; 5 other families were in the same house.  He hoped to return to his ancestral village when security allows. He was in Dohuk for a Catholic Relief Services distribution of kerosene heaters, kitchen kettles, carpets, and blankets to get them through the cold winter.

A year ago in Jordan, I met an Iraqi Christian family, mother, father, and three young adult daughters.  They too had fled ISIS in the middle of the night.  On the road to safety they saw young women being kidnapped and thanked God that they were able to flee safely with their daughters to Erbil and later Jordan.

A young male student from the University of Mosul wanted to continue his studies, but he needs to leave Jordan because he cannot work.  I wonder if any country accepted him as a refugee.  I worry that our nation is closing its doors to many such fine young men.

It is important that we pray and work for persecuted Christians and other religious minorities. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, have designated Sunday, November 26, as A Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians that initiates “Solidarity in Suffering,” a Week of Awareness and Education.

USCCB is collaborating with the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services, CNEWA and Aid to the Church in Need on this project.  There are resources available to assist parishes, schools and campus ministries in observing this Day of Prayer and Week of Awareness at  www.usccb.org/middle-east-Christians.  There you will find homily notes, intercessions, recommended aid agencies, prayer cards (in English and Spanish), logos for local use (in English and Spanish) and much more.  For social media, we are using the hashtag: #SolidarityInSuffering.  I hope you will join us in this effort.

As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has said, “To focus attention on the plight of Christians and other minorities is not to ignore the suffering of others. Rather, by focusing on the most vulnerable members of society, we strengthen the entire fabric of society to protect the rights of all.”  Persons of all faiths suffer persecution.  In the Middle East, Christians, Yezidis and Shia Muslims suffer from ISIS.  We must express solidarity in suffering with our brothers and sisters.

Stephen M. Colecchi is director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Inspired by Christ to Counter Indifference through Advocacy

A delegation from the Archdiocese of New Orleans visited their government representatives to lobby for issues important to Catholics in Louisiana and across the nation at the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.

Pope Francis frequently points to a “culture of indifference” that exposes our tendencies to forget the people in this world that we need to remember most.  This reveals a shocking reality that we must grasp about ourselves.  Instead of being attentive to those who lie on the “peripheries,”  we often choose to turn our hearts and minds from the discomfort of suffering and avoid thinking about both global and local problems. We refuse to realize that the suffering of our brothers and sisters is not just on nightly news—it’s also in our own backyard.  Sometimes, however, experiences of encounter open our eyes to these realities. Once we have the courage to see this reality, there are two ways we can respond: with generous hearts, or with stubborn indifference.

When we, the faithful of the Church, see suffering and despair in the world, we have a distinct advantage as we seek to respond.  As isolated individuals, we might flounder in despair at the gravity of the issues we see in society.  But when we gather as the Body of Christ, we can discover that we are not isolated in tackling these tough issues.  Our faith provides us with a moral framework for facing these issues, influenced by the lives and witness of the holy men and women we now call saints, , sacred Scripture, and the development of the teachings of the Church in her wisdom.

This framework is what we call Catholic Social Teaching (CST).  It serves as an aid, a way forward, and a guide for those of us who seek to shed the light of our faith on those problems which face our brothers and sisters on the peripheries.

Every year, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops hosts the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) in Washington, D.C. to unite the Church in the United States in her work to address many of the social issues our country faces.  The gathering brings together the people of the Church who wish to unite their voices to address the concerns of those on peripheries.  CSMG delegations meet with lawmakers to advocate for policies reflecting the God-given inherent dignity of the human person.

I attended CSMG as a sophomore in college as part of the Young Leaders Initiative.  During my visit to D.C., I saw courageous men and women bring the rich teachings of our Church to bear on the most difficult issues that our world faces.  They do so with joy and determination because their work is inspired by the Gospel.  When I saw that, I was inspired to do the same.

Since my time at CSMG, I have worked to feed the hunger inside myself to love the Lord and love his people.  I take advantages of opportunities on and off campus to serve the poor and advocate for and with those in poverty.  Students from across the country take part in the gathering to learn and grow as advocates, forming the next generation of advocates for those on the margins, whom Christ loves.

When I am discouraged, I remember all the good work that I learned about at CSMG, and I know I am not alone.  Most importantly, I look to our crucified Lord as the ultimate source of strength when wrestling with the great challenge of Pope Francis’ call.

Alexander Mingus is a Senior at the University of Dayton, pursuing a B.A. in Political Science and a B.A. in Human Rights Studies. 

Going Deeper

Invite colleges and universities in your diocese to participate in the Young Leaders Initiative, which facilitates participation of student leaders in the upcoming Catholic Social Ministry Gathering on Feb. 3-6, 2018.

Keeping Housing Affordable For Generation After Generation

A photo of playful parents holding sons's hands in new house. Happy and playful family are with cardboard boxes. They are in casuals.Earlier this year, Proud Ground was invited to attend the U.S. World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, CA. During this event, people from all over the world came together to discuss and brainstorm ways that they can work together to heal the many ills that exist in this world. Some of the attendees were faith leaders, and others, like the Proud Ground, were representatives of non-profits focused on social justice issues.

Unaware of what the event would fully entail, Proud Ground was quickly and thoroughly struck by the motivation and determination of the hundreds of people ready and willing to join together to help bring about social justice. For Proud Ground, specifically, this means a continued commitment to addressing the inequitable housing conditions by providing permanently affordable homeownership opportunities to those most impacted and displaced by the affordable housing crisis.

Proud Ground provides affordable homeownership opportunities to working families through its Community Land Trust model – a proven model that helps homes remain affordable for generation after generation, despite the fickle up and downs of the for-profit housing market. In the Greater Portland metropolitan area, Proud Ground has educated and counseled 340 first-time homebuyers and provided grants that reduce the down payment amounts required on homes that would otherwise have been unaffordable.

Through Proud Ground, families like Nicole and Joshua Patrick have found family stability for themselves and their son who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and needed stability in his home, school, and community. Prior to owning a home through Proud Ground, the family’s housing situation was precarious, constantly having to move from unit to unit as rental prices displaced them. With every move, the family’s overall stability was negatively impacted. Now, they receive peace of mind knowing that they can put down roots in their community.

Proud Ground also serves single-parent households like the Macfie family, who faced housing insecurity before their Proud Ground home. After years of uncertainty, Paula Macfie is now able to provide a stable home for her two daughters and has actively participated in the lives of others within her community by volunteering with local organizations and being more involved with her children at school. No matter what the family make-up, Proud Ground is committed to breaking down barriers for the families that need it most in our communities.

Proud Ground’s success goes beyond our own efforts and can be attributed to our partners and supporters – from other non-profits and grantors to individual donors and activists. For example, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development has provided indispensable support to Proud Ground throughout the years through its grant making. Anyone, no matter what their ability, has the opportunity to join philanthropists like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development in supporting the organizations and good Samaritans that support our neighbors in need. There are a number of ways to give back – from contributing financially, testifying on behalf of the community at city hall, and even supporting a co-op or local Community Land Trust in your community.

Pope Francis reminds us, “Among us, who is above must be in service of the others,” and Proud Ground is committed to living up to this idea. As a result of the support of community members, faith leaders, and other organizations, we have been uniquely positioned to help others. What will you do?

Briauna McKizzie is Communications Coordinator at Proud Ground.

Going Deeper!

Learn about how the U.S. Catholic bishops are advocating for access to decent, safe and affordable housing for all.  See how community groups that receive funding from CCHD, the domestic anti-poverty program of the bishops, are working to protect basic human rights like housing.

Advocating and educating on the federal budget in a parish

The first paragraph of the U.S. bishops’ statement, Communities of Salt and Light: Reflections on Parish Social Mission, states: “The parish is where the Church lives…where the gospel is proclaimed…where believers are formed and sent to renew the earth. Parishes … are the heart of our Church.”

Catholics feel emotionally and literally connected to their parish. They come together as a community to be fed and to hear the Word. The primary setting at which the great majority of Catholics hear the Church’s teachings is at weekend Masses. That’s why homilies about Catholic teaching can have a great impact and directly influence actions by members of that parish community.

When the U.S. bishops sent a letter to Congress on May 19, 2017, expressing concern about the proposed federal budget and stating that a budget is a moral document, we at St. Francis of Assisi in Derwood, MD, wanted to make sure that parishioners were aware of the letter. We put a short quote from the letter into the bulletin and a copy of the complete letter as an insert in the bulletin. At the end of each Mass, an announcement from the altar invited people to sign a thank you note to the bishops in the gathering space as they leave. We had signature sheets available headed by a quote from the letter: “The moral measure of the federal budget is how well it promotes the common good of all, especially the most vulnerable whose voices are too often missing in these debates.”

Many readily signed while others wanted clarification about certain paragraphs in the letter, which led to interesting, in-depth conversations. It was an opportunity for people with varying viewpoints to have a civil discussion, unfortunately too rare these days. Although it was exciting collecting the signatures, the education component was most important. People went home with the bishops’ letter in hand so they could consult it as the budget debate continued.

People have heard the gospel mandate to protect those who have less (e.g. Matthew 25) many times. It resonates with them. They also realize that difficult budget decisions must be made. The letter reminded them that a budget is not just an accounting of money, but a document that has deep moral implications, because how we spend our money shows what we value. A budget should be guided by criteria that respect the life and dignity of the human person and promote policies that enable people to live a truly human life, such as the right to food, shelter, health care, education, etc.

This concern for the physical well-being of others has deep roots in Catholic teaching. Pope Francis in a papal audience (5/16/13) quoted the words of the fourth century bishop, St. John Chrysostom: “Not to share one’s goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs.”

We at St. Francis of Assisi parish put faith in action in various areas. We have a sister parish in Haiti. We have active ministries with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and Pax Christi. We promote the full inclusion of people with developmental differences, offer pregnancy outreach and assistance, help with refugee resettlement, and participate in many other ministries. Collecting signatures to thank the bishops for their leadership on the federal budget brought all these interests under one banner.

In an era when there are so many issues competing for attention, there can be a temptation to turn off the flow of information and retreat. This action, instead, emphasized ‘oneness’ in the Spirit. Our acts of justice and peace do not flow from any particular political philosophy, but from our identity as followers of Jesus Christ.

As the bishops said in their closing paragraph, they “stand ready to work with leaders of both parties for a federal budget that reduces future deficits, protects poor and vulnerable people, and advances peace and the common good.” We stand with them.

Marie Barry is a former Staff Associate in the Office of Social Development in the Archdiocese of Washington. A parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi in Derwood, MD, and St. Camillus in Silver Spring, MD, Ms. Barry holds a Master’s degree in Theology from Washington Theological Union.

Going Deeper

Read WeAreSaltAndLight.org’s recent feature story on St. Francis of Assisi’s budget advocacy. Join the U.S. Catholic bishops in taking action to ensure that the well-being of those who are poor and vulnerable is prioritized in federal budget policy.


A Place at the Table Turns Fifteen—Where are We Now?

November 2017 is the fifteenth anniversary of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ pastoral reflection, A Place at the Table: A Catholic Recommitment to Overcome Poverty and to Respect the Dignity of All God’s Children (also in Spanish).

The 2002 reflection uses the powerful symbol of the table—where we come together for food, where neighborhood, national, and global leaders meet to make decisions, and where we gather as Catholics to worship—to ask: Who is invited? Who is excluded?

Poverty and its causes, including unequal access to resources and to the “table” where decisions are made, are a “moral scandal.” Pope Francis has frequently echoed this conviction, arguing that the scandal of poverty can only be addressed if those impacted by poverty are invited to the table.

In A Place at the Table, the bishops call all Catholics to act, and point to “the essential roles and responsibilities” of four institutions, or legs, which must work together to overcome poverty: (1) families and individuals, (2) community and religious institutions, (3) the private sector, and (4) government.

The bishops note that the debate around how best to address poverty is often too narrow, focusing only on one or two of the “legs” to the exclusion of the others. They call all four legs essential: “a table may fall without each leg.” The Catholic perspective recognizes the complementary roles of each leg and urges a comprehensive approach. Supporting healthy families and assisting individuals to make good choices are important, but the positive role of government is also essential. Faith-based institutions are an integral community support, yet business institutions must also contribute to the common good through decent work, living wages, and good benefits.

This perspective, the bishops write, is based on the Biblical vision of God’s special concern for those who are vulnerable, Catholic social teaching’s emphasis on human dignity and economic justice, and the Church’s rich lived experience feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and working for justice and peace.

A Place at the Table challenges all of us—parents, children, workers, owners, managers, consumers, investors, community members, and citizens—to work together to live out this vision and call. Through public prayer and private worship, we must anchor our weekday witness in love and solidarity. And our family, parish, and school formation must reflect Christ’s concern for those in need and equip us to confront structures of sin and work for greater justice in the world.

What is most striking about A Place at the Table is its continuing relevance today, fifteen years after its publication. We still have a long way to go in our faith communities and in society. Yet, there are countless examples of how faith communities are working, in inspiring and effective ways, to create “a place at the table.”

  • Catholic Charities in Metuchen, NJ models a unique response to poverty that includes organizing community members to influence local policy around wage theft, immigrants’ rights, housing, and other issues that affect families.
  • In Fresno, CA, a parish community of immigrants recently succeeded in a thirteen-year ecumenical effort to pass a new anti-slum ordinance which will improve living conditions for countless individuals and families.
  • A Catholic school in St. Paul, MN, is helping children invite their Muslim brothers and sisters to the “table” by facilitating a pen-pal relationships between Catholic and Muslim school children in their community.
  • Dioceses around the country are implementing the process of the V National Encuentro of Hispanic/Latino Ministry (vencuentro.org), which is an invitation for all Catholics to reflect on the gifts, opportunities, and challenges around U.S. Hispanic ministry. The broad Church—not only Hispanic Catholics—are invited to get involved.

There are many ways we can build on these and other efforts. We can continue to ask questions about who is invited, and who is excluded, in policies, programs, and decision-making. We can work with others, through our parishes, schools, neighborhood associations, faith-based and secular networks, to put our faith in action. We can get involved in the V National Encuentro process. We can ensure that the many faces of our diverse body of Christ are included in our efforts and in leadership opportunities.

Together, let’s work to create “a place at the table” for everyone.

Jill Rauh is assistant director of education and outreach of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.