How can you help stop human trafficking? Turn on the Light!

crs_light_candle_studio_300dpiHuman trafficking is modern-day slavery. With 21 million victims worldwide, there are more slaves today than at any time in history.

Since human trafficking is a prevalent issue throughout the world, January has become Human Trafficking Awareness Month. It is during this month that Catholics Confront Global Poverty (CCGP), a partnership between USCCB and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), along with CRS Ethical Trade, have launched a campaign to bring light to this serious issue. Together we are telling everyone to “Turn On the Light” to human trafficking, so that the victims are no longer living in the shadows and can finally get the help that they need.

There are two simple ways you can help to stop human trafficking.

First, use your voice to let Congress know that it is important to you that human trafficking is stopped. There is an active action alert on the CCGP website ready for your participation. You can easily send an email to your members of Congress asking them to support much-needed legislation that would dissuade businesses and employers from creating environments in which human trafficking is encouraged or can be sustained.

Second, you can make a difference and support the victims of human trafficking by buying a fair trade candle from Prosperity Candle. These candles are handmade by women refugees trying to rebuild their lives in the United States. With every purchase a donation is made to support CRS programs, such as our anti-human trafficking projects, and you are supporting the creation of wages for refugee women.

Pope Francis said “Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity.” Therefore, he has “call[ed] on all people of goodwill to take action against human trafficking and new forms of slavery.”

This year we can work together to answer Pope Francis’ call and make a difference for the millions of people who are living as slaves around the globe.

With every email to a member of Congress and every candle sold, there is another flash of hope for the victims of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a serious issue and it is one that I have been passionate about ending since I first got a good look at its realities in college when I was working with CRS. I became aware of the situations society has created which allow modern day slavery to persist, and I knew I wanted to continue using my skills to put an end to it. CRS provides many great programs and is constantly working to create an atmosphere in which people can become educated and find ways to lend a hand. That is what we are doing through CCGP, and it is your help that is crucial to ending this plague on humanity.

Please join CCGP and CRS Ethical Trade and the thousands of people who have already taken action in this fight to end this modern-day slavery. You can get more information from our website on how you can help in this much needed effort.

clare-p-crsClare Pressimone is the Grassroots Advisor in the Advocacy Department of Catholic Relief Services. 

Going Deeper

Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB has developed a National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month toolkit, which features facts about human trafficking, ways to raise awareness about the issue, and a prayer card.

Bishop Blaire of Stockton Issues Strong Statement on Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Pilgrims hold up images of Our Lady of Guadalupe during an annual pilgrimage in her honor (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

Pilgrims hold up images of Our Lady of Guadalupe during an annual pilgrimage in her honor (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

The journey of life is difficult at this time for Hispanics in the United States.  Many have friends and family members who are without papers; many are without papers themselves; children in school are being bullied; and young immigrants who signed up for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) are anxious that they might lose their opportunity to work and their protection from deportation; racism has raised its ugly head in many communities; and so many of our neighborhoods and homes are plagued with violence. Many who have jobs often find themselves having to work two or three jobs in order to make ends meet.

To all of you this day I remind you that OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE COMES TO MEET YOU TO LEAD YOU TO JESUS.  She says to each of you what she said to St. Juan Diego: “Do not be disturbed in your heart; do not be afraid.  Am I not with you, I who am your mother?” We need to hear these words of comfort and strength when there is so much hostility in the public conversation about immigration and immigrants.

I wish to say loudly and clearly to all of you that as your bishop I am with you.  You are the Church.  I will walk with you no matter how hard it gets. Please God, things will go better than our worst fears about what might happen.  Regardless, the Church is with you.  I am here to accompany you.  I also wish to announce to our immigrants, to our refugees, to our migrants, from wherever you come, that we will do everything we can to help you through our Catholic Charities and the community organizations of which we are a part. As Catholics we embrace our American traditions of welcome, of unity in diversity, and our care for all.

I also wish to say to our Muslim brothers and sisters, and to our Jewish elder brothers and sisters, and to all our inter-faith friends that the hate which destroys the unity and solidarity of the human family cannot be tolerated in any way. The way of God is the way of love.

As you know so many of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East have been slaughtered by ISIS or lost their homes in war torn areas and have suffered as refugees from their ancient lands.  I ask you to join with our Holy Father Pope Francis, in doing whatever you can in any way to support the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Christian and Muslim refugees at this time, and to bring calm to their homelands.

The causes of war and cruelty cannot be ignored.  The injustices that give rise to radical evils must be alleviated. The forces of evil must be stopped. Ultimately, evil will only be overcome by good, by the hard work of good people working together to bring about peace.  And there will be no peace if there is no justice which respects the dignity and worth of every human being.  As long as the gods of money and power and unrestrained impulses found in the idols of greed and corruption rule on the face of the earth there will be no lasting peace.  Sad to say, an even greater threat to peace that looms over our heads would be the unrestrained advance in nuclear weapons which could destroy all creation.

I sincerely believe that unless God is accepted as sovereign Lord over the earth and over our lives, communities will continue to deteriorate, the earth will be devastated, and family coherence will be diminished.  Your devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe keeps us close to her as our Mother.  She leads us to Christ Who is the all just One; the all merciful One; the Hope for the world when all seems hopeless.

The world does not need any more walls.  It needs bridges of compassion and mutual understanding.  Yes, proper respect for borders or boundaries, but not barriers of hostility and division.  Let there be peace at our borders.

The world cannot continue to endure more violence.  It needs restraint, words of peace and perseverance in the hard efforts to create the just structures that are the foundation for peace.  In our community the answer to gang violence is good education and decent jobs.

The world must not tolerate racism.   It needs to honor the diversity of God’s human family by building a unity which embraces and respects all races on the face of the earth.  Unity in diversity!

bishop-blaire-5x7Today we venerate Our Lady of Guadalupe who comes to meet us as our mother.  Nuestra Señora will show us the way to peace and goodness and justice.  Mary is the mother of all peoples.  She will give us the courage not to be afraid.  She will lead us to Jesus, the Lord of peace and justice.   Viva Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe!  Viva Cristo Rey!

Stephen E. Blaire is bishop of Stockton, California.


Welcome Migrants and Refugees This Advent

“Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you.” Rom. 15:7.
Melissa Hastings, Policy Advisory, Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB

Melissa Hastings, Policy Advisory, Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB

Forced migration is a stark reality facing millions. With more displaced persons than ever before, the need for countries and communities to offer protection, understanding, and welcome is great. In the midst of this global crisis and as the year comes to an end, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on our country’s record of welcoming migrants and refugees.

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the United States admitted nearly 85,000 refugees, including 12,000 Syrians. Through partnership with states and nongovernmental organizations, the United States has been able to provide crucial services to these resettled refugees in order to help them achieve self-sufficiency.  While the United States made some welcome progress during the past fiscal year in terms of creating and expanding programs to process Central American refugees, the current system has failed to address the needs of many individuals and families with valid protection concerns. This is evidenced by the fact that during FY 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended over 59,000 unaccompanied children and more than 77,000 family members at the U.S./Mexico border. Many of these families and children were fleeing violence and lack of state protection in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Our treatment of these groups is an issue which has divided many in our country, including our leaders and lawmakers. Over the past year, we have witnessed the unfortunate toll fear can take on our country, causing some to view vulnerable migrants and refugees unfavorably. In light of this rhetoric, it is more important than ever that we as Catholics heed Pope Francis’s call: “Do not tire of courageously living the Gospel, which calls you to recognize and welcome the Lord Jesus among the smallest and most vulnerable.”

The holiday season can be a great opportunity to welcome migrants and refugees in your community and educate your parish on the plights faced by many of these individuals.

How can you help create a community of welcome?  You can consider hosting a solidarity event. These events are a way to make migrants and refugees in your community feel supported. They can also be a way to further educate your fellow parishioners and community members about these issues. In addition, you can host a multicultural potluck event as a fun way to promote cultural awareness and foster a community of welcome.

How can you help educate your fellow parishioners on this issue?  Start a dialogue with your community around Catholic social teaching on migration. Share a copy of and discuss the pastoral letter Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope. You can also share a link to the Justice for Immigrants (JFI) website with members of your community so they can learn more about JFI’s work to support refugees and immigrants.

Through these actions, we can engage with and show support for our migrant and refugee neighbors. Learn about other ways to welcome these individuals here.

Melissa Hastings is policy advisor for Migration and Refugee Services, USCCB.

Going Deeper
Get ready to celebrate National Migration Week on January 8-14, 2017.  This year’s theme is “Creating a Culture of Encounter.” During the week, you can reflect with others on the circumstances confronting refugees and immigrants and our Catholic call to encounter and welcome.

For more information on intercultural dialogue, visit USCCB’s Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church’s resources on intercultural competencies.

In Solidarity With Syria

prayerenglishThe picture of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year old boy, who washed up on the shores of a Turkish beach last year after drowning along with eleven others including his mother and brother as they tried to escape war-torn Syria, alerted the world to the plight of Syrian refugees. Pope Francis, in an effort to stem this humanitarian crisis, called on all Catholics to “express the Gospel in concrete terms” and assist the millions of refugees risking death to migrate from Syria. “In front of the tragedy of the tens of thousands of refugees escaping death by war or hunger, on the path towards the hope of life, the Gospel calls us, asks us to be ‘neighbors’ of the smallest and most abandoned.”

The University of Scranton responded to this call from the Holy Father last year by launching In Solidarity With Syria, a coordinated effort involving university administrators, faculty, staff, alumni, and students to aid those most affected by the current immigration crisis through education and advocacy. Since then, I have been overwhelmed at the outpouring of concern from the students, faculty, and staff for refugees coming to Scranton.

We began last September with an interreligious prayer vigil during which the community was invited to pray in solidarity with our sisters and brothers displaced from their homes in Syria. One who spoke that night was a student originally from Hebron. He spoke of his Muslim faith being honored and respected at a Catholic university. “Together… we can fight the darkness and violence. And together we will make a better future for our families and children.”

Other events followed from that evening of prayer: students wrote to elected officials, attended lectures given by authors on the topic, heard first-hand experiences from advocates working directly with refugees, watched documentaries together, participated in discussions on the topic, and greeted refugees arriving in the Scranton area. We held several film series, took part in webinars, facilitated a refugee simulation, hosted round-table discussions, and continued to greet more families arriving at the Scranton airport. Our final event last year took place at a local restaurant where Syrian refugee women served as guest chefs, sharing their cuisine and cultural traditions. This year, we are continuing the conversation with the community, beginning with David Miliband, President and CEO of International Rescue Committee and former UK Foreign Secretary on the Global Refugee Crisis, who presented new insights to our campus about how we can help refugees together.

What can you do? Lots.

First, foremost, and imperatively, educate your community about what it means to be a refugee living in the United States.

Many think there’s no system in place to oversee refugees seeking entrance into the country. In reality, it takes a minimum of 18 to 24 months for a person to achieve refugee status. The vetting process involves a number of governmental and non-governmental partners both overseas and in the United States. Their need is dire and immediate, yet many live in refugee camps for years awaiting the chance to legally enter our country. A local Scranton refugee from Bhutan who now works with Catholic Social Services spent the first 18 years of his life in a refugee camp. It’s easier for someone to enter on a tourist, work, or student visa than it is to become a refugee in our country.

Another concern many people have is security. Contrary to pronouncements by leaders in our government and those seeking political office, refugees entering the U.S. are not a threat to American communities. Since January 2010, nearly 3,000 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the United States. According to the U.S. Department of State, none has been arrested or removed on terrorism charges. And people seeking to enter as refugees are people fleeing conflict or persecution. They have to prove they are facing persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Seeking job opportunities is not a qualification for refugee status.

How can you get started?

Form a committee to begin outreach to your community and then plan educational programs that will make an impact. But you don’t have to start from scratch. There are resources out there. Check out the events and programs facilitated at The University of Scranton since September 2015 that are listed on our In Solidarity With Syria web page. Other resources include:

You can also plan a Refugee Simulation and invite community members to participate. The simulation was created by Jesuit Refugee Services.

Educational programs, advocacy opportunities, and prayer activities are concrete, tangible ways to not only express the Gospel, but also to live the Gospel – to bring Christ’s message of love, hope, and justice to those seeking sanctuary here with us.

Don’t forget about five-year-old Omran Daqneesh sitting in the back of an ambulance covered in blood and debris after surviving an airstrike this past August in his native Aleppo. Once again, a picture of a small boy awakened the world to the plight of those living in Syria just as that photo of Aylan did last year.

For Omran there is hope – he is still alive. But he needs our help. This call to help is quite challenging in light of the fear that many have, given the state of the world and the words we hear from today’s political aspirants and news media agents.

As people of faith, we cannot turn our backs on our sisters and brothers at risk of life or liberty. Together we can build communities that move beyond those fears in order to care for the refugee in our midst and respect the smallest and most abandoned of our neighbors.

headshot_helen-wolfHelen M. Wolf, Ph.D. is Executive Director, Office of Campus Ministries at The University of Scranton.

Going Deeper

Did you know that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is active in assisting those who have fled their countries, through its Migration and Refugee Services (MRS)?  MRS provides processing and resettlement services, assists unaccompanied children, leads efforts to end human trafficking, and engages in public policy advocacy. Find out more about how the U.S. Catholic bishops are urging Catholics to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Standing with Our Immigrant Brothers and Sisters

Catholics know that every person is made in the image of God. Everyone is due our respect and our love. We’re called to care especially for those who most need our welcome, including newcomers to our country. Because the Church in America has always been an immigrant Church, Catholics feel this responsibility in a particular way.
The Catholic story in America is a story of immigrants, from the first Catholics who arrived here hundreds of years ago, to the waves of European immigrants whose nickels and dimes built so many churches and schools across this country, to those arriving today in search of a better life for themselves and their families. This is who we are.

We are also a family – a family whose life is enriched by the gift of our diversity. Every Sunday, in parishes across the country, people from different backgrounds come together to celebrate Mass. Many cities have Masses offered in twenty or more languages. Catholics of all backgrounds—Chinese, Polish, Guatemalan, Irish, Mexican, Ghanaian, Korean, Honduran, Lithuanian, Vietnamese —come together and are enriched by the Eucharist and by one another.

As a family, we take care of each other and our neighbors. Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and social service ministries care for immigrants every day, from language classes to job training programs to offering a helping hand when someone’s in need. We’ve been helping integrate immigrants into American life since Catholics first arrived on our shores. This is what we do.

Given who we are and what we do, we have a special responsibility to reject the hostility that dominates the public conversation about immigration today. The language we use in the public square matters. It should reflect the best of our American traditions – traditions of welcome; of unity in diversity; of care for those in need.

Pope Francis reminds us that immigrants are no different than our own family members and friends; each “has a name, a face, and a story.” Let us remember that Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus were also immigrants in a foreign land when they fled from King Herod to Egypt. When we warmly welcome newcomers we open our hearts wider to Christ.

Most Reverend Eusebio Elizondo is Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle and Chairman of the Committee on Migration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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!

Now is the time for peace!

Pic 1 posterA poster with the message, “Now is the time for Peace,” greeted bishops from Europe, South Africa, Canada and the United States when they arrived in Jordan for a solidarity visit. The “peace now” theme permeated meetings with Iraqi and Syrian refugees.

Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces represented the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at the meetings in Jordan. Then the Bishop and I went on to Lebanon to meet with the local Church and more refugees.  The situation in both Jordan and Lebanon is a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportions.

In Jordan, we learned that they are hosting about 1 million Syrian refugees and 60,000 Iraqi refugees. This is a heavy burden for relatively small country of modest means with about 7 million people.

In Lebanon, the statistics are even more startling. With a native population of only 4.5 million, Lebanon is hosting about 2 million refugees, mostly Syrians, but also some Iraqis.  That would be the equivalent of the United States taking in some 140 million refugees over five years!  We are scheduled to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, not exactly our fair share.

pic 2 mass for migrants refugees

Maronite Patriarch Béchara Boutros Cardinal Raï distributes Communion at Mass for Migrants and Refugees at the Basilica of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in Beirut.

But statistics only tell part of the story of the suffering that war, violence and persecution have brought to the region. Caritas Jordan and Caritas Lebanon are doing amazing work assisting both refugees and local people.  With the support of Catholic Relief Services and others, they serve Muslims and Christians.  It makes you proud to be Catholic.  They enabled us to meet with refugees, to hear their stories.

An Iraqi Christian family told us they had good relations with their Muslim neighbors before they fled the Nineveh plains in the wake of so-called Islamic State. They found refuge in Dohuk in the Kurdish region of Iraq, and now Jordan.  They hope to be resettled in a country of refuge.  They cannot contemplate going back to Iraq.

We also met a woman who had fled Mosul. Her family left in the middle of the night with only the clothes on their backs.  She, a teacher and her husband is a hospital worker, escaped with their three daughters, ages 28 to 24.  It took them ten tense hours at night in constant fear to reach nearby Erbil. Protecting their daughters from being raped or kidnapped was a challenge.  They witnessed killings and saw young women who were taken hostage as they fled.

Another woman reported that her father was kidnapped in Syria because Christians are being persecuted. When her brother reported the kidnapping he was put in jail for two days.

Refugees struggle in Lebanon where everything is expensive. One man said he works long hours but barely makes enough for them to live in Lebanon.  Life was better in Syria.  They want to go to Australia where they have been accepted, but their UN file is not moving.  A mother reported that her children only get milk once a day.  She is willing to go back to Syria if the situation improves because her son needs medical assistance.  Originally, they thought they’d be in Lebanon for two months.  It has been years.

These encounters and many others give a face to the statistics. There are lives and families behind the numbers.  At these and many other encounters, Bishop Cantú assured the refugees that they are not forgotten.  And he affirmed what we heard time and time again, “Now is the time for peace.”  For only peace can alleviate the refugee crisis.  I hope all sides realize that at the peace talks in Geneva.

Colecchi headshot

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

Go deeper:

Read Archbishop Kurtz’s statement regarding refugees fleeing Syria.

Learn about the work of Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB in resettling an supporting refugees in the United States.

Join Catholics Confront Global Poverty, an initiative of USCCB and Catholic Relief Services, in advocating to improve the lives of poor and vulnerable people worldwide.