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.

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.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: A Catholic Response

woman's face and neck in shadowsAn abused wife with a large family realized for the first time that Catholics cared when she saw a resource card about Domestic Violence in her church’s restroom. It was the first time she had an inkling that she was not the only Catholic woman to experience domestic abuse. The card explained that the Church teaches that no one is expected to stay in an abusive relationship and gave information about how to get help and find safety.

I have heard this story, and many others like it, too many times to count. Abuse can happen to anyone, at any age. Domestic violence is a reality that faces all of our communities—even communities of faith.

Faith leaders are often called upon to be first responders in domestic violence situations. When someone knows you are a praying person, they often turn to you for help. Teaching about compassion, nonviolence, self-control, respect and equality in its seminary education, lay ministry formation, marriage preparation, youth ministry and children’s catechetical programs are essential to preventing domestic violence.

Several Catholic organizations provide excellent resources to help. The National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers offered a workshop on responding to domestic violence at their recent national convention, and the Christian Family Movement produced small group study resources to promote action. Catholics for Family Peace, a clearinghouse for Catholic resources to respond to domestic violence that grew out of a USCCB Task Force, offers training for parish staffs and parishioners, as well as guidance for preachers and faith formation leaders and restroom signs and informational brochures from a Catholic perspective for free download, on their website.

Another resource for a Catholic response is a 100-page booklet, How Can We Help to End Violence in Catholic Families: A Guide for Clergy, Religious and Laity, which was distributed to all participants at this month’s Synod on the Family in Rome.  Written by Catholic psychologist Dr. Christauria Welland, it discusses ways all Catholics can respond to and prevent domestic violence, and how to educate Catholic youth and couples for peace. The booklet is available for free download in six languages from www.paxinfamilia.org.

Catholics for Family Peace President, Dr. Sharon O’Brien, outlines some positive steps that Catholics in ministry can take to make a difference in this serious problem affecting families:

  • In collaboration with community agencies, educate all Catholics and people of good will to prevent marital abuse, intimate partner abuse, and teen dating abuse.
  • Using Catholic teachings and evidence-based research, address the safety and healing of the victim survivor and any children, as well as the healing and recovery of the abuser.
  • Ensure that pastoral leadership of Catholic parishes and organizations, as well as family and friends, know the best steps to respond effectively to situations of domestic abuse.
  • Equip pastors and staffs to recognize and assist abuse victims by directing them to appropriate support agencies and how to connect abuse victims to safe, immediate assistance.
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides crisis intervention and referrals to local service providers. Call 800-799-SAFE (7233) or 800-787-3224 (TTY). E-mail assistance is available at ndvh@ndvh.org.

Abuse can happen to anyone, at any age. All Catholics need to be prepared to recognize abuse, respond appropriately, and refer to professionals equipped to help.

Together, we can promote family peace and end violence in Catholic families.

headshot of LauriDr. Lauri Przybysz, D.Min., is a Co-founder of Catholics for Family Peace. She also serves president-elect of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers and past-president Christian Family Movement-USA. She blogs about family ministry at www.familyministryresources.com.


For more information on the stance of the Catholic Bishops of the United States on domestic violence and resources to support victims of domestic violence, including their statement When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women visit the USCCB Domestic Violence webpage.

The Devastating Effect of Irresponsible Mining Practices

miningFor over forty years, I ministered around the Appalachian coalfields. Because of this, I was invited to Rome, July 17-19, 2015, to represent the mountains at “United with God, We Hear a Cry,” a conference dealing with communities affected by mining activities.

Sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in collaboration with the Latin American “Churches and Mining” network, the meeting convened grass-roots representatives from 18 countries: Chile, Peru, Brazil, Columbia, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Mexico, United States, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Mozambique, Ghana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, India, and the Philippines.

Transnational mining corporations exert disproportionate power over most local communities with negative results, which raises grave concerns for Rome. Too frequently, the mining practices violate the human rights of workers, destroy local environments, introduce negative health impacts, greatly enable substance abuse, allow prostitution and human trafficking, threaten local cultures, and have ties to organized crime.

After citing many of these abuses, Pope Francis in a letter to the participants stated clearly: “The entire mining sector is undoubtedly required to effect a radical paradigm change to improve the situation in many countries.”

The stories from the participants underscored that sentiment.

A representative from the native peoples of Canada said a breached mine tailing dam in upper British Columbia released 25 million cubic meters of debris into Lake William and polluted the crystal clear lake where 80 million salmon spawn.

Worse, a Philippine village witnessed the killing of the mayor’s wife and two sons, because he opposed the mining practices. Others in the village received the “blanket” threat–the symbol of wrapping for death. Continuously participants told stories from mining practices. They told about violence, dishonesty, and theft, besides testimonials about pollution, destruction, and sickness.

Shortly after returning from Rome, I toured with Bishop John Stowe, our new bishop of Lexington, KY, around the nearby coalfields. We heard stories similar to those from the international conference.

One family we met contracted with a company to mine 70 acres for coal, but instead saw the company illegally mine 90 acres, allegedly because the company changed the property map.

Another fellow said the blasting from mining caused a separation in his brick home large enough to put his fist into the gap.

Still another complained the mining company never paid him the agreed amount for the coal that they mined. Instead, he found the payments delayed until the company declared bankruptcy, and then he witnessed operations resumed under a different name without the liability.

Add to these stories the discarded miners with black lung, the numerous kids with asthma and the increased rates of cancer for women attributed to mining practices, and we can see that Appalachia unfortunately shares much of the same dishonesty, theft, and despoiled environment that breeds sickness and human distress discussed at the international conference.

On the local level, Catholic parishes not only respond to victims of mining-induced floods and mudslides always by supplying temporary shelters and home furnishings, but also conducting community prayer services. These services bring spiritual healing and insight by directing prayer against mining injustices.

Nationally, people of faith must awaken to the link between the demand for mine products and their lifestyles.

Conference participants acknowledged the need to train bishops, priests, and seminarians about Laudato Sí, and extend this to all the faithful. Dialogue within the church and with mining interests remains key, while divestiture from businesses supporting bad practices requires action.

Ultimately, we people of faith must reflect the teachings from Laudato Sí and pursue an integral ecology that links the poor, the earth, and human community in the web of life. 

headshot of Fr. John Rausch

 

Fr. John Rausch, a Glenmary priest, teaches, writes and organizes around justice issues in Appalachia.

Working Together for a Better Life

Fr. Ty Hullinger

Fr. Ty Hullinger is pastor in Baltimore, Maryland

This spring’s uprisings in communities like Baltimore and Ferguson have forced us to a greater awareness and acknowledgment of the root causes of systemic violence that affects working families each day in America.

This is the kind of violence fomented by unemployment, poverty wages, jobs without medical benefits, lack of affordable housing, privatization of public utilities and services like water, hostile union busting and union avoidance campaigns, and organized public and private-sector disinvestment in neighborhoods where most people actually live. In many instances, this is exacerbated by the stain of racism that communities of color face.

Pope Francis writes in Evangelii Gaudium,

“The poor and the poorer peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. . . . This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root” (no.59).

In offering this way to analyze the origins and power of this kind of systemic violence, Pope Francis reminds us that this violence is a response to the drastic inequality that results from rapid economic globalization and accompanying market forces that want to turn everything into a commodity that can be bought or sold. And this leads to a throwaway culture that threatens the existence of every living thing.

So timely are the Pope’s words to people in America!

Laudato Si’ and Evangelii Gaudium are fast becoming powerful learning tools for people engaging in community organizing efforts to end the systemic violence that is poverty. In the Curtis Bay neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland (a tightly-knit residential community surrounded by large industrial properties), Laudato Si’ is being studied by an interfaith, multicultural, and intergenerational group of residents who formed a human rights committee called Free Your Voice with the help of United Workers (a local human rights organization formed by low-wage workers and currently funded by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development). Free Your Voice is working to stop the development of what would become the nation’s largest trash-burning incinerator on land near a community that already suffers extremely high rates of cancer and other pollution-related diseases. As a part of that campaign, a Laudato Si’ study group came together to discuss what it might be saying to us.

One part that especially spoke to us was the section called Civic And Political Love (nos. 228-232). We felt like the Pope was speaking directly to us in America when he says:

“We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty. It is time to acknowledge that light-hearted superficiality has done us no good. When the foundations of social life are corroded, what ensues are battles over conflicting interests, new forms of violence and brutality, and obstacles to the growth of a genuine culture of care for the environment.” (no. 229)

We have had enough of racism, sexism, pollution, income inequality, union busting, disinvestment, hyper-policing of African-American communities, and all of the violence which mocks and hurts working families. Though spring has turned into a long, hot and especially violent summer, we still have hope.

This Labor Day is an opportunity to remember how our families, labor unions, community organizations, and faith communities are places where civic and political love endures and makes itself known in the efforts of people to work together for a better life for all.

Fr. Ty Hullinger is pastor of St. Anthony of Padua, St. Dominic, and Most Precious Blood parishes in Baltimore, Maryland and a member of Interfaith Worker Justice of Maryland and the Priest-Labor Initiative.