Encounter the Stranger this Lent

The Lenten season gives us the opportunity to encounter Christ in the desert. With him, we face the temptation to despair in the face of the world’s deepest needs, to throw up our hands in defeat. But, just as Jesus emerged from the desert fortified to begin his ministry, so too do we emerge from the desert of Lent ready to encounter the needs of the world with the hope of the Resurrection.

Yet, sometimes our fears can be paralyzing. We find ourselves focusing all our energy inward. We find ourselves doubting if we have enough, if we’ve done enough, if we are enough—and we are afraid to act. Scripture reminds us time and again: “Be not afraid.” In the person of Jesus—and in the countless holy women and men who have followed him—we see the power of giving fearlessly, of sacrificing what we have and what we are for the good of others.

Bolstered by faith, Jesus showed courage when confronted by fear. He did not waver in reaching out to those most in need. And we’re called to do the same, trusting that our lives can be ones of fearless encounter pointing to the hope of the Resurrection.

While the temptations of the desert tell us to be afraid, to cling to what we have and look out only for ourselves, the invitation of Lent beckons us forth to encounter the needs of the world through:

  • A renewed life of PRAYER in God that unites our needs with the needs of the world, through the stories of members of our global human family.
  • A commitment to FAST that reminds us that God is ever faithful and frees us from the fear of not having or being enough.
  • A readiness to GIVE ALMS to share what we have with our brothers and sisters around the world.

Each day during Lent, we have the opportunity to be inspired by the stories of communities from around the world, to set aside a little of ourselves to make room for a stranger.

Annet is one such stranger. Ongoing violence in her home country of South Sudan forced Annet to take her three siblings and flee south to neighboring Uganda. It was a dangerous journey, but Annet showed courage, keeping her siblings safe despite threats from rebel soldiers. For more than two years now, Annet and her siblings have been living in Bidi Bidi, one of the world’s largest refugee settlements. While Annet is happy to be away from the violence, life in Bidi Bidi is hard—especially for a young woman trying to raise her siblings. While she wants her family to one day be able to return to South Sudan, for now, she knows that Bid Bidi is the safer option. In the meantime, she encourages her siblings to go to school and does all she can to ensure they’ll have a bright future.

Stories like Annet’s remind us that the journey through the desert ultimately leads to resurrection—and it is our Gospel call to stand with courage. This Lent, we journey with Christ through fear to fortitude, recognizing God’s invitation to reach out beyond ourselves to encounter the needs of all.

Going Deeper!

Read more stories of hope and discover how you can get involved with CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting, and gifts to change the lives of the poor.

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Eric Clayton is a Senior Program Officer, Mission and Mobilization at Catholic Relief Services.

Share the Journey on World Refugee Day

In his 2018 World Day of Migrants and Refugees message, Pope Francis exhorted all members of the human family to recognize that, “Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age (Matthew 25:35-43).” This encounter is practically expressed, he goes on to say, in acts of welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating migrants and refugees which place no conditions or restrictions on our accompaniment.

On June 20, the international community will observe the 19th annual UN World Refugee Day to remind ourselves about the ongoing and life-threatening struggle of migrants and refugees and, at the same time, celebrate the multitude of gifts they bring to the receiving nations and host communities that become places of rebirth and new hope. Refugees like Walaa Ali, whose peaceful life was turned upside down in July 2007 when she was forced to flee her beloved homeland of Iraq. Her story epitomizes the courage and resiliency of all refugees, like the Holy Family, who undertake a perilous journey of survival.

The two-year Share the Journey global migration campaign launched by Pope Francis in September 2017 under the auspices of Caritas Internationalis, a worldwide confederation of Caritas and Catholic Charities agencies, comes at a particularly opportune moment in the history of the global migration phenomenon. Sadly, we’re witnessing the tendency of nations including our own to turn inward and seal their borders in the name of security and out of fear against the enormity of the plight of our desperate brothers and sisters, fully 80 percent women and children, who seek only protection and a place of peace for themselves and their families.

This campaign offers a multitude of personal and organizational opportunities to raise awareness of, advocate for, and be of service to some of the most vulnerable persons we’ll ever encounter. Here are just a few examples:

  • Celebrate a multicultural Mass or prayer service in your parish on or around World Refugee Day and focus the readings and prayer intentions on the scriptural migration narrative
  • Organize in-district Congressional member visits to advocate on behalf of migrants and refugees
  • Present Catholic teaching on migration to parish and school groups
  • Volunteer to assist newcomers in the initial stages of their journey to the U.S. through a Catholic Charities agency
  • Join the Share the Journey and Justice for Immigrants campaigns to learn more about migration and refugee issues and available resources
  • Participate in a local pilgrimage/solidarity walk to raise awareness and present a visible witness to the plight of migrants and refugees
  • Host a parish or community potluck meal with newcomers in your community and invite them to share their stories

How will you share the journey? In the words of the Holy Father, “The Lord entrusts to the Church’s motherly love every person forced to leave their homeland in search of a better future. This is a great responsibility, which the Church intends to share with all believers and men and women of good will, who are called to respond to the many challenges of contemporary migration with generosity, promptness, wisdom, and foresight, each according to their own abilities.”

May we heed this call with open hearts and open minds.

Jim Kuh

Jim Kuh is the Senior Director of Immigration and Refugees Services at Catholic Charities USA in Alexandria, VA.

The Good Samaritan Challenges Us to Live Out the Resurrection

“Jesus himself is the model of the Good Samaritan; by imitating his love and compassion, we show ourselves truly to be his followers.” –Pope Francis

Lent is a time of preparation for the Resurrection. During these 40 days, we have an opportunity to walk with Jesus and reflect on his suffering, and the suffering of so many communities worldwide. How do we respond?

The Good Samaritan is moved with compassion at the sight of seeing his neighbor in need. In his compassion, he suffered with—and we are called to do the same when we encounter another person who is suffering. Whether the man in the parable or so many of our brothers and sisters in need around the world, we can follow the Samaritan’s example. The Church always challenges us to show compassion particularly for those who are most vulnerable. As we look out at our world, we see countless refugees, migrants, women, men and children on the move, fleeing violence, economic hardship, persecution and climate injustice. These are some of the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.

Jesus tells the Parable of the Good Samaritan in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” That question applies to us, too, and the answer must include these individuals on the move. As we encounter them on life’s roads, do we allow ourselves to be moved with compassion, as the Good Samaritan was? Ultimately, this Lent, we prepare for the joy of the Resurrection. That joy is something we are called to share; it is a way of living.

How does this joy guide our acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, especially where refugees, migrants and others suffering are concerned? How will you prepare for the coming of the Easter season as a time to imitate Jesus’ self-sacrificing love?

Find this video and all of CRS Rice Bowl’s Share the Journey tools for reflection here.

Eric Clayton works at Catholic Relief Services. He holds an MA in international media from American University and a BA in international studies and creative writing from Fairfield University. He currently lives in Baltimore with his wife, daughter, and pet hedgehog.

Pastoral Letter “Strangers No Longer” Still Strong 15 Years Later

Each week’s news seems to bring new attention to the migration crisis: the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar, child migrants escaping violence in the Northern Triangle countries of Central America, refugees from war torn areas in the Middle East, and others.

The migration of peoples from one country to another is hardly new to the modern age, but the sheer numbers of people being displaced in recent decades—due to violence, economic need, environmental causes, and other reasons—has challenged governments to take stock of the various crises giving rise to migration and to find ways to respond in responsible ways.

Following the massive displacement of people that coincided with World War II, Catholics sought to better understand ways in which their own tradition could inform their understanding of the phenomenon, and how best to respond to it. Perhaps one of the most prominent efforts in the early post-World War II period was the publication of Pope Pius XII’s Apostolic Constitution, Exsul Familia, which explicitly held up the Holy Family as an archetype for refugees.

Subsequent popes continued to explore the question of migration, and in doing so addressed the responsibility of receiving countries toward migrant communities, the responsibilities of migrants living in a new homeland, and the importance of providing protections to marginalized populations. The Migration Day messages that are issued every year by the pope are a very useful resource to better understand the teaching of the Church on migration.

In 2003, the bishops of the United States and Mexico made an important contribution to this effort with the publication of their joint pastoral letter, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope. This letter, whose principles are still current, aimed to clarify some of the unique challenges confronting their respective countries with regard to migration, understand the application of Catholic teaching, and provide guidance to policy makers as they try to respond. An important part of this letter consists in the bishops’ effort to provide guiding principles that should inform policymaking. These include:

  1. Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland.
    All persons have the right to find in their own countries the economic, political, and social opportunities to live in dignity and achieve a full life through the use of their God-given gifts. In this context, work that provides a just, living wage is a basic human need.

    2. Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families.
    The Church recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people. When people cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.

    3. Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders.
    The Church recognizes the right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such control when it is exerted merely for acquiring additional wealth. More powerful economic nations, which can protect and feed their residents, have a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.

    4. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.
    Those who flee wars and persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent authority.

    5. The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.
    Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected. Often, they are subject to punitive laws and harsh treatment from enforcement officers from both receiving and transit countries. Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the undocumented are necessary.

On the pastoral letter’s tenth anniversary, I helped to edit a volume that reflected on many of the themes of the letter, and highlighted some of the important developments that occurred since its publication. Just five years later, as we celebrate the pastoral letter’s fifteenth anniversary, we find ourselves in a new set of circumstances as efforts to restrict migration in the United States are in full force.

Given these changed conditions, it is as important now as ever for Catholics to understand Church teaching on migration and in doing so push for legislation that respects the human dignity of migrants. The Justice for Immigrants Campaign, launched partly in response to the publication of the pastoral letter, is an important mechanism that Catholics can take advantage of in this regard. I urge you to visit the website and sign up to the listserv, so that you can receive regular updates on migration related phenomenon, and better understand what the Church is doing in this field.

In addition, the recently initiated migration campaign, Share the Journey, is an effort on the international level to educate Catholics on migration issues and Church teaching. In the U.S., the campaign is being implemented by USCCB, CRS, and CCUSA. On the website you can find a variety of useful resources to educate and inspire others to take action in defense of migrants and vulnerable populations.

Todd Scribner, PhD, is the Educational Outreach Coordinator for the Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs, at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Going Deeper
Visit www.wearesaltandlight.org and find dialogue resources to address difficult issues on immigration. Also, find inspiration by learning how a diocesan Immigration Team Fosters Participation and Respect for Human Dignity.