Praying that the Supreme Court Keeps Families Together

20160418_114652On April 20, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of United States v. Texas.  I stood with thousands of people on the steps of the Court to bear witness on this historic occasion. Inside were colleagues from the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, some of whom camped outside the night before to be among the few granted admission to the courtroom. Also inside were Cardinal McCarrick, a venerable champion of human rights and pastor to people on the margins throughout the world, and six-year-old Sophie Cruz, an indomitable girl who hand-delivered a note about her undocumented parents to Pope Francis during his visit to the United States last September.

People waiting outside the Supreme Court came from all over the country. Many rode buses for several hours, if not longer, so that those who will make this important decision could see the faces of some of the millions of lives at stake. Among the people present, I could see the beautiful diversity of America. People from all faiths and ethnicities united in prayer, chants, and song.

I went to the Supreme Court with members of St. Camillus, a multicultural Catholic parish community in Silver Spring, Maryland. The parish boasts membership of individuals from more than 100 countries speaking dozens of languages. I went as an act of solidarity and faith. I live in a community of immigrants and am descended from Irish immigrants. Census records show that when my family arrived in the late 1800s, girls in my family immigrated alone at the ages of 15 and 16, and the men worked as day laborers. These are the same situations in my community today.

20160418_115428A couple of years ago, my parish priest made a statement about how he ministers to our immigrant community, and that statement has stuck with me over the years. He said that often when he baptizes a baby in our parish — on that joyous day when a child is welcomed into our Church and receives his/her precious first sacrament —he says a silent prayer that the family not be separated.

It is precisely those parents who would benefit from Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), one of the programs that the Supreme Court is considering.

This month, the Supreme Court will issue its decision in the case — a decision that will affect the lives of millions of people in the United States. At issue is the validity of the Obama administration’s executive action and the corresponding guidelines, which would grant deferred action, a form of prosecutorial discretion, to some four million people who have lived in the country for many years and allow them to apply for work permits.

Because of the “substantial humanitarian benefits” that the new programs would offer, USCCB joined with many other faith-based groups in defending the deferred action. As they stated in their amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court, the programs would provide “important benefits to the most vulnerable in our society, and to those who serve them” and also ensure “that the public will continue to benefit from the substantial contributions of recent immigrants.”

We hope and pray that not only will the administration be allowed to implement the new immigration guidelines, but that this will also be but the first step on to a pathway to greater opportunities for all. We must continue to pray and advocate for a long-term solution.

As Pope Francis said in his address to Congress:

“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. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

maura headshot (1) MMMaura Moser is manager for mission & identity outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.


Join with Catholics around the country to urge Justice for Immigrants. Read stories about how communities of faith are standing with their immigrant brothers and sisters: Students Support DREAMers and Immigration Team Fosters Participation and Respect for Human Dignity.

 

World Refugee Day: An Opportunity for Reflection and Action

In April 2016, Pope Francis joined Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos to stand in solidarity with refugees. In his remarks, he lamented their suffering and said:

God created mankind to be one family; when any of our brothers and sisters suffer, we are all affected. We all know from experience how easy it is for some to ignore other people’s suffering and even to exploit their vulnerability. But we also know that these crises can bring out the very best in us.

Monday, June 20, we celebrate World Refugee Day, which provides Catholics an opportunity to reflect on the conditions confronting the millions of people who, like those on Lesbos, have been forced from their homes under threat of persecution and possible death.

The most recent reports by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has estimated the number of forcibly displaced people to be at about fifty-nine million. In other words, about one in every 122 people living today is either internally displaced, a refugee, or seeking asylum. This is a staggeringly large number. Current political conditions around the world show few signs of improvement, with the likelihood that things will only worsen in the coming months.

Often our attention is drawn either to situations of mass displacement or migration related crises that occur closer to home. With respect to the former, the conflict in Syria has resulted in massive upheavals, with as many as nine million Syrians displaced from their homes, and over three million seeking safety in a neighboring country such as Lebanon or Turkey. Approximately one in four people living in Lebanon are refugees.

Closer to home, the increase in the number of asylum-seeking unaccompanied migrant children and migrant families who arrived along the southwest border of the United States in recent years precipitated a moment of crisis and a media frenzy by the summer of 2014. With an average of 6,800 children apprehended in each year from 2004 – 2011, the number jumped to over 13,000 children in Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 and over 24,000 in 2013. Over 50,000 were detained in FY 2014 and, although a decrease was evident the following year (28,387), the numbers again increased in the first quarter of FY 2016 (18,558). Trends are similar for migrant families apprehended over this same stretch of time.

In both situations, the Catholic bishops of the United States have called for expanded protections for the most vulnerable populations in these migrant flows. With respect to Syria, the bishops have called on the U.S. government to provide 100,000 annual resettlement slots for the most vulnerable refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria. With respect to Central America, they have stressed the importance of recognizing the families and unaccompanied migrant children fleeing their home countries as refugees, and the need to ensure that the international protections due to these populations is respected.

These are both important situations that are deserving of our continued attention. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of people migrating in both of these crises and others like them often obscures the individuality – the personhood – of individual migrants who are making a long and dangerous journey to what they hope will be a place of safety. For this reason, it is important that we take the opportunity to highlight the people who are affected.

People like Omar, who fled Syria under threat of torture and likely death, and who has since found a new home here in the United States where he is now thriving.

Or like Mariam, who experienced violence in her home country Sierra Leone and then spent years in a refugee camp in Nigeria before coming to the United States.

These kinds of stories help us to recognize the person behind the refugee crises that we hear about every day. They are not just part of a faceless mass of people, but individuals who deserve to have their dignity respected and the opportunity to live a life worth living.

As Pope Francis stated, these crises can, and should, bring out the best in all of us.

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


Go Deeper!

Praying as a Community of Salt and Light: Incarnate Prayer on the Border

Bishops and priests celebrate Mass behind border fencePraying as community of salt and light means that we bring our reality to prayer and let prayer enlighten our reality. For us here in the Diocese of El Paso, we do this in a variety of ways but one of the most special prayer traditions we have developed is our annual Border Mass.

Every year in November, around 600 people on both sides of the border celebrate the Eucharist right smack on the US-Mexico border fence. Dioceses on both sides – Mexico and the United States – come together around the altar placed against the fence and remember that we are ONE PEOPLE OF GOD. We are two nations, one faith. And, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ: not detention, not deportations, not family separation, not death in the desert, not the hardened heart of our nations, not prejudice or discrimination, not abuse, not violence, drug trafficking, nor militarized or inhumane border enforcement.

Each year, the bishops of the diocese of Las Cruces, El Paso, and Juarez come together and take turn presiding and preaching. We bring our reality of immigration, the lives and needs of our immigrant brothers and sisters, to the Eucharistic table and pray. We pray for our migrant brothers and sisters who have died in the desert, for a deeper encounter with Christ, for a conversion of hearts and minds, for communion and solidarity. We can pray that we may become more welcoming and respectful of the human dignity of our migrant brothers and sisters. We pray for courage to continue advocating for comprehensive immigration reform.

Celebrating Mass at the border makes prayer incarnate in our daily lives. I understand that this form of prayer is a bit harder to reproduce where there is no physical international border, but it is not impossible if we use our imagination and creativity.

You can celebrate a border Mass in your diocese or parish in unity with the border Mass we celebrate on the border in November by celebrating at the same time we do ours, so we can all be united. Imagine if on that day we celebrate our border Mass here in El Paso, there would be several Masses going on in our nation at the same time!

You can also celebrate a Mass for immigrants and the immigration issue where the readings, preaching, intercessions, and call to action focus on migration. You can also simulate a border either outside or inside a church by building a border out of simple building materials (a few studs and wire, for example). You can divide the church aisle with your fence or you can build the fence in front (on the side or behind the altar or another area in your church) and place pictures of all the borders we build, physical or otherwise, such as prejudice, racism, fences, or a hardened heart.

Let us continue to pray that our border Masses be always turned into bridge Masses.

headshot of Marco RaposoMarco Raposo is Diocesan Director of the Peace and Justice Ministry in the Diocese of El Paso.


Go Deeper!

Be a community that builds bridges!  Get resources on praying together as and celebrating our diversity as one body in Christ.

Wage Theft: A Threat to the Worker and to Economic Development

Don Bosco's Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan at Pope's Workshop

Don Bosco’s Gonzalo Cruz with Cardinal Dolan

Wage theft is not only an urban problem. Don Bosco Workers began as a parish program at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Westchester County in 2000. The program was in response to the growing social unrest in Port Chester over “workers on the corners” and the alarming levels of wage theft as a consequence of workers being uninformed and unaffiliated.

A Catholic Campaign for Human Development — the domestic anti-poverty program of the Catholic bishops of the United States — grantee beginning in 2006, we incorporated in 2008 including a worker-driven board of directors. Today, we represent more 200 paid members organized as a General Assembly of Workers who decide on how to strengthen the organization through skills training, leadership development, and education.

In September 2014, in collaboration with Communications Workers of America, Local 1103 in Port Chester, we launched a new campaign to address wage theft as a threat not only to the Westchester worker but to economic development throughout the county. No Pay No Way: Wage Theft Is Bad For Business educates the community on how responsible business owners suffer, when other businesses fail to follow labor law. Research shows responsible businesses are simply less competitive because their cost of doing business (paying their workers) is higher.

Just about one year into No Pay No Way, we collaborated with the Attorney General of New York in the prosecution of a local restaurant owner for wage, overtime, and safety violations for five female workers. The employer was sentenced to repayment of $47,000. The women are now thinking about investing their recovered wages in a worker-owned eco-cleaning business.

Last year, we were honored to construct the chair that Pope Francis used when he celebrated Mass at Madison Square Garden. We were called the Pope’s workers, and this continues to inspire our work for justice.

When workers are treated fairly according to the law, workers and responsible small business thrive, and there is greater economic development for all.

Gonzalo Cruz is the Director for Don Bosco Workers, Inc.

Go Deeper!

As Don Bosco Workers, Inc. works to protect worker rights, visit this page from WeAreSaltAndLight.org which contains resources on ethical practices for business leaders and institutions.”

Francis, Frontera, Faith and Family

I was blessed to be able to join “Pope Francis VIPs” as they attended a Mass on the United States-Mexico border.

These VIPs were not CEOs, VPs, or celebrities. Rather these VIPs were, as defined by Pope Francis, migrants, undocumented immigrants, unaccompanied minors, and family members separated by massive fences, armed security, and outdated immigration laws and policies.

IMG_3544 croppedPrior to the Mass, we gathered for a couple hours in St. Pius parish hall waiting for our turn to be processed through security. In the hall was an air of nervous enthusiasm, as we really didn’t fully grasp what we were about to experience. The VIPs were excited to meet cardinals, bishops, and Church leadership. There was an obvious gratitude for the work of the Church on immigration and legitimate care for the migrant.

After being processed through security, we were bussed to a levee that separates El Paso, Texas USA and Juarez, Mexico.

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Pope Francis ascends memorial to pray for migrants. Photo taken from the U.S. side of the border.

Heavy on most of our minds were the thousands of people who have died in efforts to cross the border in hope of a better life for themselves and their families. Pope Francis himself spent several minutes of silent prayer on behalf of those lost lives.

In his homily, the Holy Father said: “The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today. This crisis, which can be measured in numbers and statistics, we want instead to measure with names, stories, families. They are the brothers and sisters of those excluded as a result of poverty and violence, drug trafficking and criminal organizations. Being faced with so many legal vacuums, they get caught up in a web that ensnares and always destroys the poorest. Not only do they suffer poverty but they must also endure these forms of violence. Injustice is radicalized in the young; they are ‘cannon fodder,’ persecuted and threatened when they try to flee the spiral of violence and the hell of drugs.”

20160218_094259

Painting at Casa de Migrante in Ciudad Juarez

I was reminded that how, when wanting to prove our points, we recite numbers, indices, and statistics, not sharing the human story, overlooking the faces of people and the reality of our shared humanity. This “holy” sharing hit me hardest when persons on the Juarez side of the border and the El Paso side received communion: one God, one Church, one faith, and one family — all sharing simultaneously in the Body of Christ. I heard Pope Francis at the end of his homily when he said “…we can pray, sing, and together celebrate the merciful love that the Lord gives us and that no border can stop us from sharing.”

During the Mass, despite a well-fortified border and active patrolling security, an incredible peace surrounded us, a calmness that was not the result of fences or firearms. For a brief moment, the border was inconsequential. Prayers and supplications flowed on both sides as freely as the birds that circled above us. Together we prayed for generations past and for those yet born. We prayed that their lives may be lived to the fullest, and we remembered that no border can stop us from being one family.

Ralph McCloud, CCHD

Ralph McCloud serves as the director of the USCCB Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Learn more about the work of CCHD and follow on Twitter @EndPovertyUSA.


Go Deeper!

Communities of faith across the United States are taking up Pope Francis’ call to see the names, stories, and families behind the human tragedy of forced migration. Here are just a few:

Francisco, Frontera, Fe y Familia

Tuve la bendición de poder acompañar a las “VIPs del papa Francisco” cuando asistieron a una Misa en la frontera entre Estados Unidos y México.

Estas VIPs (personas muy importantes) no eran directores generales, vicepresidentes o celebridades. Más bien estas VIPs fueron, como las definió el papa Francisco, migrantes, inmigrantes indocumentados, menores no acompañados y miembros de familias separadas por grandes vallas, seguridad armada y leyes y políticas inmigratorias obsoletas.IMG_3544 cropped

Antes de la Misa nos congregamos un par de horas en el salón parroquial de San Pío esperando nuestro turno para pasar el proceso de seguridad. En el salón había un aire de entusiasmo nervioso, ya que realmente no comprendíamos del todo lo que estábamos a punto de experimentar. Las VIPs estaban contentas de reunirse con cardenales, obispos y líderes de la Iglesia. Había una obvia gratitud por el trabajo de la Iglesia en materia de inmigración y cuidado legítimo del migrante.

Después de pasar por el proceso de seguridad, fuimos trasladados en bus hacia un dique que separa El Paso, Texas, Estados Unidos, de Juárez, México.

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Papa Francisco asciende monumento a orar por los migrantes . Foto tomada desde el lado de EE.UU. de la frontera.

En la mente de la mayoría de nosotros estaban muy presentes los miles de personas que han muerto tratando de cruzar la frontera con la esperanza de una vida mejor para sí y sus familias. El propio papa Francisco pasó varios minutos de oración en silencio en nombre de esas vidas perdidas.

En su homilía, el Santo Padre dijo: “Esta tragedia humana que representa la migración forzada hoy en día es un fenómeno global. Esta crisis, que se puede medir en cifras, nosotros queremos medirla por nombres, por historias, por familias. Son hermanos y hermanas que salen expulsados por la pobreza y la violencia, por el narcotráfico y el crimen organizado. Frente a tantos vacíos legales, se tiende una red que atrapa y destruye siempre a los más pobres. No sólo sufren la pobreza sino que además tienen que sufrir todas estas formas de violencia. Injusticia que se radicaliza en los jóvenes, ellos, ‘carne de cañón’, son perseguidos y amenazados cuando tratan de salir de la espiral de violencia y del infierno de las drogas”.

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Mural en la Casa de Migrante en Ciudad Juarez

Me hizo recordar cómo, al querer probar nuestros argumentos, recitamos números, índices y estadísticas, que no comparten la historia humana, que pasan por alto los rostros de las personas y la realidad de nuestra humanidad compartida. Esta compartición “santa” me impactó más cuando las personas del lado de Juárez de la frontera y del lado de El Paso recibieron la comunión: un solo Dios, una sola Iglesia, una sola fe y una sola familia, todos compartiendo al mismo tiempo el Cuerpo de Cristo. Escuché al papa Francisco al final de su homilía cuando dijo: “…podemos orar, cantar y celebrar juntos ese amor misericordioso que el Señor nos da y que ninguna frontera podrá impedirnos compartir”.

Durante la Misa, a pesar de una frontera tan fortificada y el intenso patrullaje de seguridad, una paz increíble nos rodeaba, una calma que no era resultado de los cercos o las armas de fuego. Por un breve momento, la frontera fue intrascendente. Oraciones y súplicas fluían en ambos lados tan libremente como los pájaros que daban vueltas encima de nosotros. Juntos oramos por las generaciones pasadas y por las aún no nacidas. Oramos para que sus vidas puedan ser vividas al máximo, y recordamos que ninguna frontera puede impedirnos ser una sola familia.

Ralph McCloud, CCHD

Ralph McCloud, CCHD

Ralph McCloud es el director de la Campaña Católica para el Desarrollo Humano de la Conferencia Catolica de Obispos de los Estados Unidos.

The Catholic Relief Services Collection: Helping Jesus in Disguise

crs-facebook-2-403x504Each time we encounter a suffering person, we encounter Jesus in disguise. The Catholic Relief Services Collection (CRSC) funds six Catholic agencies that serve the disguised Jesus in our suffering brothers and sisters around the world. His disguise might be that of those suffering from natural disaster, those displaced by violence or war, or those migrants searching for a better life.

In the developing world, it is often hard for families to support themselves and their children. Sophie, a widow working in a village in Burkina Faso, was struggling to feed her family and pay for schooling for her children. Thanks to the help of Catholic Relief Services, one of the CRSC supported organizations, her village was able to set up a Savings and Internal Lending Community (SILC). Through the SILC, members contribute what they can afford, allowing them to pool their resources and save collectively. Members can then borrow money to meet pressing needs or develop business opportunities. Through the SILC, Sophie was able to take out a $200 loan to cover startup costs for her own canteen, a sum that would be nearly impossible for her to save. Her canteen has been very successful and began to pay off in only six months. Her community has benefited too, as she has been able to hire three assistants to work with her. Without the SILC and the work of CRS, it would have been nearly impossible for her, and others like her, to create a sustainable life for her and her family.

2016-crs-montage-text-270x200Even in the developed world, it is difficult for immigrants to navigate the American justice system and to know their rights. Another organization that receives funds from the Catholic Relief Services Collection is CLINIC, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. The BIA Pro Bono Project that CLINIC manages uses funds from the CRSC to provide support and legal representation to immigrants facing the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). Pedro entered the United States to provide a better life for his family and to flee violence and persecution. He entered the United States without inspection, but nearly 20 years later, Pedro was taken to an immigration detention facility away from his wife and three children while the BIA decided whether he could stay in the country. Thanks to the BIA Pro Bono Project, law students discovered that he had never been considered for Temporary Protected Status, and local legal counsel represented him. This counsel helped determine that he was in fact eligible for this legal status. After a year in a detention facility, separated from his family, Pedro was able to return home.

This Lent, remember our suffering brothers and sisters and Jesus in Disguise.

Funds acquired from the CRS Collection are also distributed to these organizations: USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services for refugee resettlement USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace, and Human Development for advocacy The Holy Father’s Relief Fund for emergency relief USCCB’s Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church for evangelization and ministry

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (mt 25:40)

Bevin Kennedy, Office of National Collections at the USCCB

Bevin Kennedy, Office of National Collections at the USCCB

Bevin Kennedy is the Assistant Director for Promotions in the Office of National Collections at the USCCB.

National Migration Week 2016: “A Stranger and You Welcomed Me”

M7-460_NMW PosterIn the Gospel of Matthew (25:35) Jesus tells his disciples, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

The call to welcome the stranger plays an important role in the lives of faithful Christians and holds central place for those of us who work in the migration field. The migrant, who moves from one country to another, is truly a stranger in our midst. Often unfamiliar with the local tongue of the new country, not to mention its customs, the migrant needs the support of local communities so that she can better adjust to her new surroundings. National Migration Week 2016 picks up on the theme of welcome and, in doing so, calls on each of us to welcome the stranger among us.

Sadly, every year seems to bring a new migration crisis to the forefront.

In 2014, the United States witnessed a significant influx of unaccompanied migrant children and families fleeing violence in their homelands. Most of these migrants came from El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras. The Catholic Church has taken seriously the humanitarian and policy oriented aspects of this situation and advocates in support of increased protections for migrant children and their families who are arriving in the United States.

In 2015, the Syrian refugee crisis took center stage. Since its outbreak, at least four million Syrians have fled their country as a consequence of the civil war and the rise of ISIS. Most have fled to surrounding countries, especially Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Many others have moved on to Europe with the hope of finding a place of peace and safety. Pope Francis and the Catholic bishops have called on the U.S. government and the international community to provide support to both Syrian refugees fleeing violence and to countries that have been at the forefront of this humanitarian effort. In a related statement, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, 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.

In both the unaccompanied migrant child and Syrian refugee crises, the Catholic Church’s call to provide protections and support for these vulnerable people has often gone unheeded and has been instead met by demands to implement further restrictions on migration to the United States.

In the case of Syrians, suggestions have been made to ban Muslim migrants from entering the United States altogether. In the case of unaccompanied children, legislative efforts were undertaken to limit their international protections.

The Catholic bishops neither support a policy of open borders nor a process of unregulated migration from one country to another. Rather, they continue to defend the duties of the international community to implement internationally agreed upon protections that are due to vulnerable migrants, and to call upon world leaders to provide a place of welcome, wherever possible, to those who are fleeing an impossible situation.

This position is rooted in the Gospel, and concretely in Matthew 25: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

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


See additional 2016 National Migration Week resources, including a bilingual prayer card.

On Thanksgiving, let us remember our history as refugees

A family displays a sign they created to welcome a refugee family, as they await their arrival at the airport. (Photo credit: Sarah Williamson in Jacksonville, Florida)

A woman holds a sign her for a family of refugees arriving to the United States. (Photo credit: Sarah Williamson of Jacksonville, Florida)

The foundation of our nation is the fundamental belief that the United States is a land of freedom, opportunity, and compassion. Indeed this week we celebrate Thanksgiving, a uniquely American holiday that enshrines this storied tradition.

That foundation has been challenged in the past couple weeks, since the tragic terrorist attacks in places like Paris, Beirut, and Mali. Many public officials are calling for Syrian refugees to be turned away, fearing that they present a terror threat to Americans.

As Catholics and Americans, we must remember our core values of compassion and justice. Indeed these values are the very reason the U.S. refugee program exists – to help people in need and continue to be a beacon of hope in the world.

The refugee program is thorough in ensuring that the people entering the United States have no ties to terrorist organizations. Refugees go through the most extensive security checks of any people arriving to the United States. That’s why the process that can take up to two years, to make sure that we are resettling the right people. The United States deliberately resettles the most vulnerable people: most are women and children, and only two percent are single men. All are fleeing violence like what the world witnessed in Paris, but on a more frequent basis. Since the terrorist attacks in September 2001, more than 784,000 refugees have been accepted into the United States, with no terrorist attacks occurring in the United States.

The refugee program is an expression of our solidarity with refugees, as well as with our important allies around the world. Since 2011, when the Syrian conflict began, the United States has resettled a little over 2,000 Syrians; this is but a fraction of the four million Syrian refugees who have fled their country in search of safety. Next year, the United States has indicated its willingness to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees to show solidarity with Middle Eastern and European countries who are hosting millions.   By accepting refugees into the United States, we stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies around the world, helping people who have nowhere to go and yet have so many skills and talents to offer our nation.

A young girl waits at the airport to greet an arriving refugee familiy. She is participating with her family in the local POWR program at Catholic Charities in Jacksonville, Fla. (Photo by , Sarah Williamson in Jacksonville, Florida)

A young girl waits at the airport to greet an arriving refugee family. She is participating with her family in the local POWR program at Catholic Charities in Florida. (Photo credit: Sarah Williamson of Jacksonville, Florida)

Migration and Refugee Services at USCCB has been resettling refugees for fifty years. We know how to do this in a way that facilitates their integration into American society. For example, the Parishes Organized to Welcome Refugees (POWR) program matches arriving refugees with community and parish volunteers who assist the refugees in navigating their new lives in the United States. This program also offers an opportunity for Americans to live their faith in a concrete way, for the benefit of all in their community.

In his visit to Lampedusa and in his calls to Catholics to help, Pope Francis has defended the rights of all Syrian refugees. In his message to Congress, Pope Francis urged us to treat others as we wish to be treated: “The yardstick by which we measure others is the yardstick by which time will measure us.”  This is the Golden Rule, which applies to all.

The debate on Syrian refugees is a teaching moment for all Americans, and an opportunity for us to call to mind our deepest held values. The Catholic Church not only resettles the largest number of refugees in the United States through the Catholic Charities network nationwide, but does so in accordance with Christ’s teaching of welcoming the stranger, “the least of these.”

Let us remind ourselves and our fellow Americans that we, like generations before us, came to this country to find safety and freedom, just as Syrians and others around the world seek now. Let us not forget what we stand for as a nation and as a people of faith.

As the Holy Father told Congress, “In a word, if we want security, let us give security, if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunity, let us give opportunity.”


Kevin ApplebyKevin Appleby is the Director of Migration Policy and Public Affairs at Migration and Refugee Services, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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.