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 the Tragedy in San Bernardino

IMG_2131The mass shooting on December 2nd has devastated our communities here in the Diocese of San Bernardino. We continue to pray for the repose of the souls of the 14 victims that lost their lives in this terrible shooting.

The husband of the principal of our Catholic Parish School at Sacred Heart in Rancho Cucamonga was one of the victims. His name was Mr. Damian Meins. His funeral was on Friday, December 11th. Our prayers go out to the family of Mr. Meins and all of the families who have lost their loved ones. Mr. Damian Meins worked for the County of Riverside for 28 years and had recently begun working for the San Bernardino County of Environmental Health Department. He was also the physical education teacher at St. Catherine of Alexandria School in Riverside and for the past few years had dressed up as Santa for the school. He is remembered as being kind-hearted, compassionate, and caring.

Before the shooting happened, we at the Social Concerns Office of the Diocese of San Bernardino had organized a Taize Prayer in collaboration with the Global Solidarity Diocesan Committee, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and Sacred Heart Parish in Rancho Cucamonga. The Taize prayer vigil was to show solidarity for refugees and the victims of the Paris attack. We had distributed the flyer months ahead of time. It is a deep mystery to see that the same parish that helped organize a prayer to show solidarity for victims of terrorist violence was now directly affected by senseless violence in their own city.

On December 4th, two days after the mass shooting, the organizing committee gathered to revise the Taize Prayer to integrate a special prayer to show solidarity for the 14 victims of the San Bernardino tragedy and specifically for Mr. Meins and his family. The diocese, parish, and school community gathered to pray and light candles for healing and peace. Most Reverend Bishop Barnes, Bishop of San Bernardino and Rev. Benedict C. Nwaschukwu, Parish Pastor guided us in our prayer.

IMG_1948The presence of Bishop Barnes was especially meaningful to the healing process of the Sacred Heart Parish community. Bishop, our pastor, was with us.

In times of deep suffering it is healing to experience clear signs of Emmanuel: God with us. “Even though I walk in the dark valley, I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.” ( Psalm 23:4) Bishop Barnes was with his people and expressed his empathy and solidarity. He said: “For some of us, it will take much longer to heal. And we respect where each person is in their pain, in their anger, in their sorrow, in their confusion.”

He added: “Let your hearts and your minds be open to God’s message for you, for all of us, for our communities and our families. Be open to where our God, a God of mercy and love, leads us.”IMG_2237

At the end of the prayer, the students of Sacred Heart Parish School offered fresh roses in memory of Mr. Meins.

On December 7th, two days after the Taize Prayer at Sacred Heart Parish, an interreligious prayer vigil at San Bernardino’s Our Lady of the Rosary Cathedral was organized in order to comfort friends and families of the victims, first responders and other civic leaders affected by the Dec. 2 attack. Inland Congregations United for Change, a group Catholic Campaign for Human Development has supported, was key in organizing the interfaith prayer vigil. Bishop Barnes gave the opening address and expressed: “We want what is good for our community. We do not want evil to win over our hearts, our pain to paralyze our future. We do not want our hearts to turn against any person, any race, any religion.”

As a community, we are discerning ways to continue our healing process. WeIMG_1972 understand it may be a slow and long process. People are afraid and have many mixed emotions. However, we as a faith community would like to be a source of hope because as Bishop Barnes expressed at the interreligious prayer vigil: “We believe that love is greater than hate; courage greater than fear; unity greater than separation.”

We, at the Diocese of San Bernardino, are thankful to all the people who have expressed their support in these challenging times. Thank you for letting us know that we are not alone; that you are with us in your prayers and acts of solidarity.

Sr. Hortensia Del Villar, SAC is the Director of Social Concerns in the Diocese of San Bernardino.

Photos by Andres Rivera, courtesy of the Diocese of San Bernardino


Related: Statement from Archbishop Kurtz, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, on December 14, 2015

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.

A 9/11 Reflection: Peace, Healing, and Reconciliation

headshot of Fr. John Crossin

Fr. John Crossin, OSFS

Like many people, I can clearly remember where I was and what I was doing on September 11, 2001. As I was riding home on a mostly empty Metro train late that afternoon, I saw that the Pentagon Station was closed. As we passed Reagan National Airport, the sky was completely clear, the runways empty, the parking lot vacant, the entrances blocked, the setting eerie. My heart was numb.

Two days later, numbness gave way to admiration as I talked to government workers who worked downtown. At the time, they thought there could be more planes. On the day they thought they might die, they tried to help one another. They thought about their families. They tried in vain to contact them. Even two days later as they processed their feelings of fear and uncertainly, they maintained a focus on others.

Of course, even after all these years, we have scars. Death and trauma leave marks on us.

There still can be a need for healing and reconciliation in our lives—even these many years later. In my experience, healing of major traumas is more an ongoing process extending over time than a ‘once and for all experience.’

Pope Francis will come to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York City on September 25 for a Multireligious Gathering for Peace. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and other religious leaders from the Metropolitan New York area and beyond will pray in the presence of one another and give a common witness to peace.

This Gathering will be an impetus to peace, healing, and reconciliation. It could become a milestone in the process. But the long-term impact will work itself out in our individual lives as we let the healing power of Christ’s mercy come more deeply into our hearts and as we show that healing mercy to those around us.

 

John W. Crossin, OSFS, is executive director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs at the USCCB.

 

Election in Nigeria Brings New Beginning

Nigeria. (US Government Image)

Nigeria. (US Government Image)

The recent electoral campaign in Nigeria saw violence and an exaggerated level of tension. The stakes for the two most important candidates, incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and his main challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, were extremely high. Election Day glitches and accusations of fraud raised tensions further. In the end, when the results came in they brought a clear result, a peaceful transition and a new direction.

Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Party won the election with a margin of about 2 million votes over President Jonathan’s party. This is the first time since independence in 1960 that an election has resulted in a peaceful transition of power. There was very little violence during the polling and vote count. With such a huge margin of victory, claims of discrepancies or voter fraud could not affect the outcome. In a first for Nigeria, President Jonathan called Buhari to concede and congratulate him on his victory. Although this is standard protocol for the United States, for Africa, much less Nigeria, this congratulatory call was a major symbolic step forward for democracy. The gesture will certainly moderate, if not discourage, legal and violent challenges to the results. It sets a new tone and standard for the post-election process and marks a dramatic departure from previous elections in Nigeria and other African countries where inciting supporters to violence has killed many and destroyed much.

The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, urged supporters of the two candidates to remain calm and to respect the election result. Archbishop Kaigama also asked security forces to remain on alert in order to contain post-election violence and new attacks by Boko Haram.

President-elect Buhari, who ruled Nigeria from 1983-1985 after a coup d’état, was known for his so called “war on indiscipline”, which did succeed in reducing levels of corruption in the country. His rule was also characterized by significant levels of human rights abuses. However, he is known as a man who has lived simply and avoided excessive trappings of wealth and power. President Buhari will need to uphold human rights and discipline and exercise humility if he is to bring about change in Nigeria.

President Buhari faces many significant challenges. He must foster competency and instill discipline in the Nigerian army if they are to defeat Boko Haram, while avoiding human rights abuses in the process. He will have to promote peace and prosperity in the northern Muslim regions as a long-term strategy to cut off the supply of future extremist groups’ recruits and financial supporters. At the same time, he will need to prove to southerners that he is also concerned about their welfare. President Buhari will also have to stimulate the economy if young Nigerians, a major portion of the population, are to find employment. Lastly, he will have to eliminate the corruption that has deprived the country of billions of human development dollars.

Last weekend’s election may not constitute a Holy Week miracle, but it is most certainly a blessing to the people in Nigeria. Let’s pray that those blessings continue.Hilbert headshot

Stephen Hilbert is a policy advisor on Africa and global development at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Nigeria: On the Eve of Crucial Elections

Nigeria (US Government image).

Nigeria. (US Government image)

On Saturday, March 28, Nigerians will go to the polls in a highly anticipated and politically charged election. Incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan is being challenged by Muhammadu Buhari in a very close race. The vote should have already taken place on February 14, but it was postponed by the Government because of instability in the northeastern region of the country caused by the extremist group Boko Haram. Government officials argued that they could not organize polling and that people would not be safe going to the polls. Boko Haram had taken control over 14 districts in the northeast state of Borno as of mid-February. Political rivals countered that the ruling party was merely delaying the elections because of fears that it might lose.

Government forces, reinforced by a regional task force of troops from Chad, Niger and Cameroon, mounted a coordinated and sustained attack on Boko Haram held areas. By March 21 they had taken back 11 of the 14 districts and claim to be close to defeating Boko Haram. In response, Boko Haram has returned to its terrorist tactics of suicide bombings to engender fear. Many believe that Boko Haram will step up attacks on the day of the election in an attempt to disrupt the vote and undermine its legitimacy.

The Catholic Church in Nigeria has repeatedly worked with the Muslim community for peaceful relations between the Christian and Muslim faith communities and for respect among the many ethnic groups in Nigeria. The Church has also consistently urged the government to promote social cohesion and good governance. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria met with the two candidates during the election campaign and called on them to be selfless leaders in service to the good of their people. In reaction to the postponement of the election, the Church insisted that the government should ensure that elections be held and that they be both credible and accurate. Pope Francis urged the bishops of Nigeria to remain steadfast in their support for peace in the face of violent extremism and fundamentalism. US Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Nigeria in January to promote peaceful elections. On March 23, President Obama addressed the people of Nigeria to urge them to reject violence and extremism and instead show their support for a more peaceful, secure and prosperous future.

The stakes in this election are high. President Goodluck Johnathan, a Christian, is running against Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim and former military leader. The Nigerian people are split almost evenly between the two faith communities that have long competed for power. Many fear that the elections will provoke another round of violence; in the 2011 election campaign about 800 people lost their lives. In an attempt to prevent instability, on March 23, the two candidates signed an agreement to respect the results of the election and urged their supporters to refrain from violence.

Let us pray for the people of Nigeria that they will deepen their democratic traditions, reject violence and take a big step forward towards a future of peace and prosperity. Hilbert headshot

Stephen Hilbert is a policy advisor on Africa and global development at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

ISIL & Religious Freedom: The Role of the Use of Force

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Christian refugees fleeing ISIL live in tents on the grounds of a Catholic church in Erbil, Iraq.

You’ve likely heard the alarming reports. Last month, twenty-one Coptic Christians were murdered in Libya by the self-declared Islamic State.  A week later, hundreds of Assyrian Christians were taken hostage by the group in Syria. Since the first major territorial gain by ISIL in early 2014, when they took over much of Anbar province in Iraq, millions of people have been displaced from their homes, including Christians and other religious minorities. As ISIL made territorial gains, it terrorized all those who didn’t subscribe to its warped interpretation of Islam and support its power grab. The group has made its acts of brutal violence well known throughout the world.

It’s clear that something must be done to stop these horrendous attacks and protect all who are threatened, including religious minorities. Pope Francis and the Holy See have reminded the international community on several occasions that it is morally licit to use force to stop an unjust aggressor. At the same time, they have also emphasized that any use of military force must be proportionate and discriminate, and employed within the framework of international and humanitarian law.

While the use of force is licit, it must not be the only tool used to counter the brutality of ISIL. ISIL was able to gain power through its manipulation of political and economic exclusion in the region. These grievances must be addressed if we hope to truly put an end to the group’s threat. In a February 23rd letter to President Obama and leaders in Congress, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the USCCB, and Bishop Oscar Cantú, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, made the powerful observation that “inclusive governance and meaningful participation in political and economic life inoculate populations against the false promises of extremism.” These are just two elements among many that should be part of a holistic intervention to undermine ISIL.

Developing a multi-faceted approach to such a complex problem is no easy task, but it is one worthy of our energy and resources. People’s lives are at stake. The brutal acts we hear about on the evening news only begin to give us a picture of the harsh reality facing those living in areas threatened by ISIL. Bishop Cantú recently returned from a solidarity visit to the Kurdish region of Iraq where he encountered some of the hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis, Christians, Yazidis and Muslims alike, who have abandoned their homes in order to flee the terror of ISIL. Bishop Cantú witnessed the important work of development agencies, like Catholic Relief Services, that are serving those in need. There is a great need to support those who are displaced as well as those countries and communities that have taken them in.

ISIL has shone a light on the reality of religious persecution in our world. More must be done more to promote international religious freedom and protect religious minorities. While grateful for our nation’s commitment to supporting humanitarian assistance and for its efforts to encourage the formation of an inclusive government in Iraq that respects human rights and religious freedom for all, we know that these efforts must be strengthened and new strategies developed in order to truly transform the conflict with ISIL and counter their extremist message and brutal tactics. As Congress looks at the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) currently pending before it, we must remember these lessons – that limited force, consistent with international and humanitarian law, may continue to be necessary, but it cannot replace other diplomatic and political tools necessary for a lasting peace in the region.

Colecchi headshot

Dr. Stephen M. Colecchi is director of the USCCB Office of International Justice and Peace.

Go deeper:
Read the USCCB’s call for prayer and action on behalf of those facing religious persecution in the Middle East and around the world.

Read the letter of Archbishop Kurtz and Bishop Cantu to President Obama and Congressional leaders on religious persecution in the Middle East and the Authorization for Use of Military Force pending before Congress.