How to address the Syrian refugee crisis in a humane way

Found lying face down and lifeless on a Turkish beach, the three year old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, was another victim of the violence in Syria that had caused his family to flee their home in pursuit of a better life elsewhere. Photos of his drowned, crumpled body quickly went viral, and the scales from people’s eyes seemed ready to fall away as the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis it helped produce suddenly became personal. As tragic and unnecessary as his death was, his case was not an isolated event. More than four million refugees have fled the region since 2010, with most taking shelter in surrounding countries. Many thousands have died in the process; countless others struggle with the daily ritual of just trying to survive.

Some 2,000 refugees and economic migrants are entering Serbia daily en route to the European Union. Serbia's public spaces, like this park in the border town of Kanjiza, have become temporary homes to those in transit.

Some 2,000 refugees and economic migrants are entering Serbia daily en route to the European Union. Serbia’s public spaces, like this park in the border town of Kanjiza, have become temporary homes to those in transit.

As many as one in three people living in Lebanon today is a refugee from the Syrian crisis. Turkey hosts nearly two million, and Jordan 600,000 more. Syrians have begun to face increasing challenges to find safety and protection in neighboring countries, which, faced with overwhelming refugee numbers, insufficient international support, and security concerns, have taken measures this year to stem the flow of refugees – including restricting access or closer management of borders and introducing complex requirements for refugees to extend their stay.

As a consequence, tens of thousands of refugees have begun the difficult trek west, with the hope of finding a new home in countries throughout Europe. Despite initial efforts to provide a humanitarian response to these refugee populations, signs of strain are clearly beginning to set in as leaders of countries throughout the region have begun to tighten their borders and restrict further access.

Reflecting on this expanding and deepening problem, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, KY and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, urged “all Catholics in the United States and others of good will to express openness and welcome to these refugees, who are escaping desperate situations in order to survive. Regardless of their religious affiliation or national origin, these refugees are all human persons—made in the image of God, bearing inherent dignity, and deserving our respect and care and protection by law from persecution.”

Elsewhere Pope Francis has highlighted the moral obligations of the international community toward migrants, emphasized the need to establish institutional structures that can more effectively respond to crises of this sort, and called on “every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe” to take in one refugee family.

Recognizing that inaction will only have dire consequences for the many vulnerable refugees who are seeking a place of safety, the Catholic bishops of the United States have made a number of recommendations related to this problem. These include

  • Ending the conflict in the region and establishing a workable peace is of paramount importance.
  • Building an inclusive and lasting peace to allow Syrian refugees—also including those who are ethnic and religious minorities– to return home, rebuild their communities, and share in the governance of their country.
  • Providing humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees who have fled to neighboring refugee countries.
  • Providing development aid to refugee host countries near Syria so they are able to properly welcome and care for the refugees.
  • Authorizing the admission and resettlement of 200,000 refugees into the U.S. from refugee countries across the world, including 100,000 resettlement slots designated for the most vulnerable refugees fleeing the Syria conflict.

Please, take a moment to learn what steps you can take to help Syrian and other refugees in their moment of need.

Todd ScribnerTodd Scribner is the Education Outreach Coordinator for Migration & Refugee Services at the USCCB.


Take action now! Support for Syrian Refugees is Needed Now More Than Ever – Action alert from Catholics Confront Global Poverty, an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services.

A few things you need to know about poverty in the U.S. right now

Tom Mulloy, policy advisor at USCCB

Tom Mulloy, policy advisor at USCCB

As Catholics, we strive for an economy that places people first. Everyone has a right to live in dignity, free from poverty, with decent work at just wages.

Life in America is far from our Catholic understanding of a just economy. Back in September, Archbishop Thomas Wenski cautioned against settling for this ‘new normal’ that leaves too many people and families behind.

The Census Bureau recently confirmed these fears when it released updated poverty and income statistics for 2014. Five years after the Great Recession — after five consecutive years of economic growth and “recovery”– Census reported that:

  • About 15 percent of Americans–close to 47 million people–live in poverty. The overall poverty rate hasn’t been this high for this long in over forty years.
  • 1 in 5 American children live in poverty. Child poverty hasn’t been this persistently high since the early ‘90s.
  • For half of all American households, income is still significantly lower than it was before the recession even began.

When the economic life of our country breaks down like this and fails to provide sufficient work and opportunity, public programs can play a critical role in ensuring human needs are met. Fortunately, Census had good news on this front. Federal antipoverty programs are relatively good at combating the shortcomings of the economy and reducing poverty.

  • Working family tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit, taken together, are by far the most effective tools we have for fighting child poverty. Without them, the child poverty rate would be seven whole percentage points higher.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly referred to as food stamps), in addition to fighting hunger, reduces overall poverty by one and a half percentage points, and child poverty by close to three percentage points.
  • 1 in 7 American senior citizens live in poverty. Without Social Security, that number skyrockets to 1 in 2. Yes–fifty percent.

We should make sure these programs are protected by reminding our elected officials that they help millions of people achieve some sense of financial security. Our interactive map at PovertyUSA.org now has updated statistics for your state to inform your advocacy efforts. We can also work for more and better jobs with just wages in our own communities. The county-level view of our map highlights programs across the country doing this critical work with help from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Let’s give Pope Francis the last word. In his address to Congress last month, he implored:

Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Mt 7:12). This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.

 

Tom Mulloy is a policy advisor in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.


 

For an in-depth discussion of the Census report, check out our Poverty in America, 2014 and a Catholic Response webinar and download a copy of the presentation. 

Finding Christ in All Children

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.

Matthew 25:35, 40

Laura Kelly Fanucci, MDiv

Laura Kelly Fanucci, MDiv

Toward the end of my graduate courses in theology, I took a class on ministry through the life cycle. During our class on welcoming young families in the parish, we watched a video of a speaker encouraging pews full of mothers that their work as a parent answered the call of Matthew’s Gospel to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and tend to the sick. Whenever they cared for their children—the least among us—they were caring for Christ himself.

When the video ended, my hand shot up. And with the confidence that one can only muster before having children, I declared that this so-called parenting expert had it wrong. The idea that Christ’s commandment to care for the poor and needy—the very criteria by which we will be judged at the end of times—could be satisfied by raising one’s own kids? It was a complete cop-out.

It was really about justice, I argued. It was really about solidarity. It was really about radical love for marginalized members of society.

It was not about dirty diapers and baby bottles and car pools and doctor’s visits.

If anything, I argued, Christian parents were called to teach their children what it meant to actually visit prisoners, to actually welcome strangers, to actually feed the starving. Anything less was simply the watering down of Christ’s call.

Years later, I can tell you with just as much confidence that I only had it half-right.

I still believe that parents have a duty to raise their children to care for those in poverty and need. I still maintain that the watering down of the Gospel is an alarming trend for those of us who live in relative comfort and wealth. I still argue that Christ’s call in Matthew’s Gospel is about radical love and charity and service— a disturbing reminder for we who squirm in the pews and wonder if our lives will set us on the right or the left side on judgment day.

But what I have learned in the years since I became a parent is this truth. Continue reading

Two Powerful Books You Need for Early Formation

the covers of two children's booksLunches are packed, backpacks are strapped on tight, and yellow school buses are making their rounds.  The school year has begun!

Religious education programs are also back in full swing at our parishes. And families, back from summer camps and vacations, are settling into the normal routine of fall. At the same time, Pope Francis’ visit to the United States for the World Meeting of Families is just around the corner.

What do all of these have in common? They are each a special opportunity to reflect on the formation and education of children.

This formation and education begins, of course, at home, where parents, the “first educators of their children,” teach them moral values and love for God and neighbor (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1653 and 2207).  We can’t start too early.

This fall, as we look for ways to catechize children about discipleship and the call to mission—themes that will most certainly feature prominently in Pope Francis’ messages during his visit—the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development has two great resources to help.

Green Street Park (grades K-2) and Drop by Drop (grades 2-4) tell stories about how children, inspired by their faith, put two feet of love in action in their local and global communities.

Here you can read:

Finally, here is a review by an 8-year-old!

handwritten review of Drop by Drop by 8 year oldDrop by Drop Review

In my opinion Drop by Drop is a very good book, now here is why: First of all I loved Drop by Drop, because there was a prayer in the front of the book! The story made me feel sad because the girl Sylvie had to get water that was 3 miles away and she could not go to school like me! I think other kids should read this book because they will learn how to help kids around the world!”

 


Find out more ways to respond to Pope Francis’ call during his visit to the United States! Sign up now for JPHD’s Papal Visit alerts on Sept. 21-28. The daily emails will include updates, resources, and ways you can act on the Holy Father’s call. The alerts will also highlight sharable content from JPHD Facebook and Twitter pages.

Lost in the Shadows

Matt Wilch photoAfter checking in with security, the officer led us through the main gate to his car for the trip to the prison-inside-a-prison. We had driven through much of Athens, Greece—a modern city with large, preserved displays of her ancient, heralded past. We travelled to the outskirts of the city, to this prison at the foot of some rocky, dusty hills. As we drove across the grounds to the inner prison we could see that like the outer perimeter, it had a heavy cyclone fence with razor wire on top. It was not old-fashioned barbed wire with metal thorns spaced out every few inches, but razor wire like the jagged teeth of a wide bladed bandsaw twisted in an endless helix along the top of the entire fence.  Inside the fence were a half dozen or so, small, bread-box shaped module homes like the kind used to house people made homeless by a hurricane.

As we entered the compound we saw a sign on the wall warning that if you applied for asylum you would remain inside for at least one year.

At any given time, Athens has some 250,000 undocumented people from other countries, many of them asylum seekers forced to flee from conflicts in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.

This prison-inside-a-prison holds forty unaccompanied Afghan boys and youth from ages 12 to 17.   A fellow colleague from USCCB Migration and Refugee Services and I interviewed almost half of them.  Some had recently fled from Afghanistan to escape continuing threat by the Taliban. Others had fled to Greece after unsuccessfully trying to find refuge in Iran or in Turkey.  Despite their grim surroundings and the traumas many of them had already suffered in their countries or during their travels through foreign lands, they were clinging to wide-eyed plans to find their way to Sweden or England or the United States, even though almost none of them had connections of any kind in any of those places. All that they knew was that they could not stay where they were, and they had heard that those places were better.

Most had taken recent harrowing journeys at the mercy of human smugglers and traffickers, travelling across the Aegean Sea from the west coast of Turkey. They had been rescued from the sea near one of twenty or so Greek Islands—only to be transferred to this detention center in Athens. They were often the oldest boy in their respective families.  For one 14-year-old youth, his parents had both died and his efforts and dreams were fueled by the desire to send money back to his four younger brothers and sisters.

These Afghan youth and other unaccompanied refugee children are often remarkable, resilient kids, who are largely out of sight and out of mind in the shadow of the Syrian refugee crisis and other large refugee crises. They do not deserve detention and harsh enforcement. They deserve our advocacy and our help.

One viable option for some of the children is resettlement to a third country, such as the United States, which has a strong program for such youth. For World Refugee Day celebrated June 20, in solidarity with refugees around the world, urge your Senators and Representative to be champions for unaccompanied refugee children like those described above by increasing the funding for the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program of the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the Department of Health and Human Services to $137 million. Urge Congress to build up U.S. capacity to help unaccompanied refugee children and also share U.S. expertise and resources for resettlement to other countries around the world.

Matthew Wilch is a Refugee Policy Advisor for the USCCB Office of Migration and Refugee Srevices. See Refuge and Hope in the Time of ISIS for further findings and recommendations concerning unaccompanied children impacted by the Syrian refugee crisis.  See also The United States Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program: Guiding Principles and Promising Practices.

Links for April 21, 2015

Here are a few links for today.

“heed the voices of the poor who are impacted most by climate change … “
In his recent column in the Florida Catholic, Archbishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, writes about the challenge of climate change and how Pope Francis may address the issue in his upcoming eco-encyclical later this year. For more on the eco-encyclical and environmental justice, follow Cecilia Calvo, coordinator of the USCCB Environmental Justice Program, on twitter.

More on our great new children’s storybooks!
Merged Books
Lisa Hendey over at CatholicMom.com interviews our Jill Rauh on the great new storybooks, Green Street Park and Drop by Drop, meant to help parents and educators teach children to put their faith into action by pursuing both charity and service.

Want an awesome new children’s book to read to your child?

Merged Books

For years, the US Catholic bishops have used a “two feet” model to explain how Jesus’ disciples are called to put God’s love into action to address the problems that face our local and global communities. The “two feet” are charitable works and social justice

Charitable works describe those immediate actions we can take to address the needs of families and individuals in short-term ways, like serving at a soup kitchen or donating money to emergency relief efforts. Social justice addresses the root causes of problems, with the aim of making long-term change that will affect many people. Fixing flawed laws or policies, and promoting economic development are examples of social justice. Both “feet” are complementary and necessary.

This concept can be tough to teach to adults, let alone children! But it just got easier with two new children’s storybooks published by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in partnership with Loyola Press:

Green Street Park is a story about a boy named Philip, who lives on Green Street. He loves his neighborhood, but the park he and his friends play at is in rough shape. When Philip and his friends complain about the park, their teacher, Sr. Mary Clare, challenges them to follow the example of St. Francis and care for creation in their own backyard. They clean up trash and they also work to engage their parents and community—even the mayor—in “fixing” the park. The end result? A safe, clean place to play and a community garden that produces healthy food for neighborhood families and the parish soup kitchen.

In Drop by Drop, Sr. Mary Jerome’s class has a visit from her nephew, Mr. Mike, who works for Catholic Relief Services in Burkina Faso, in Western Africa. Mr. Mike shares about his friend, Sylvie, a little girl who could not go to school because it took several hours each day for her and her sisters to walk to a river and collect clean water for their family. CRS and the community implement a water project, and this means Sylvie can finally go to school. The students listening to Mr. Mike’s story decide to help through a creative project of their own.

As a parent, I’m excited about these two new books because they are such a great tool in helping children learn about our call, as disciples of Jesus, to respond to the problems that affect our neighborhoods and world. They explore real issues that children in the U.S. and around the world face, and spark imagination about how children can be involved in creative charitable works and social justice solutions.

Loyola Press has created a beautiful reflection guide to help children (and their parents) pray with the books, as well as downloadable worksheets for educators.

I hope you’ll join me in sharing these super new books with children in your lives. This week (April 20-24, 2015), in honor of Earth Day and both books’ focus on caring for creation, you can also visit USCCB Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to participate in a contest. You might even win a free copy of one of the books!

Rauh headshot

Jill Rauh is assistant director for education & outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.