The Critical Need for Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees

The Catholic Relief Services Collection will be taken in many parishes across the country on the weekend of March 25-26 to support humanitarian and pastoral ministries to the vulnerable around the world. The work of The USCCB Office of Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers benefits from this collection. To learn more, please visit www.usccb.org/catholic-relief.

In El Cajon, California, a parish composed mostly of refugees and asylees gathers each week to celebrate Mass in the Syriac rite. Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish is part of the Syriac Catholic Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance and is the center of the community for its members, most of whom fled from Iraq. In my visits to this community last year, I found a faith life that was truly awe inspiring. They are united by their faith and by their culture, and their pastor leads them to building community with one another.

During my first visit in June, I discovered how deeply the pain of their past runs. I was there with Bishop Yousif Behnam Habash, leader of the diocese and a member of the Subcommittee on the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers, as well as Deacon David Hamel, from Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Tulsa, to have a discussion with refugees from the parish and to learn from their experiences and needs as we seek to assist bishops and their dioceses in offering pastoral care to these communities.

The conversation turned to forgiveness. Bishop Habash began to share the importance of forgiving those who have hurt us. He is a leader who is no stranger to this sometimes difficult task. An Iraqi himself, he knows the pain that many in his home country suffer.

As the conversation continued, I noticed a man in the crowd. He was sitting there, listening, and he began to cry. I knew that many in the room had suffered greatly before they came to the United States, but I was not prepared to hear what he would share.

This man shared that his daughter had been killed in Iraq and he was forced to flee to escape the violence. The pain of losing his family and being forced out of his home country was so much to bear. And the task of forgiveness seemed daunting.

So many members of this community carry the pain of a traumatic past. But they carry it to this parish where they find comfort and community with one another. They rely on one another, support one another, celebrate together, and pray together.

During a visit in November, the women’s prayer group invited me to join them for one of their weekday prayer meetings. Many of the women don’t speak English, but they welcomed me and shared their prayer with me. After prayer, everyone met for coffee and donuts and sat around chatting, sharing news and stories, laughing and eating. Their bonds of faith connected and fortified them as they built their lives in the United States.

But this community is not without needs. Refugees and asylees, in particular, need pastoral care to go hand in hand with their humanitarian care. By supporting The Catholic Relief Services Collection, you can help provide pastoral care to marginalized groups around the country. Your support to this national collection will help bring the Gospel to people, like migrants, refugees and travelers, who need to hear its message of comfort and hope.

David Corrales is the Program Coordinator for the USCCB Office of Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers

Encounter Fernando

“Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. Work…anoints us with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God, who has worked and still works…”
– Pope Francis, Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, 2013

 “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.” John 5:17 How tempting it is to relegate these words of Jesus to the archives of history. But let us realize that they are as relevant now as they were 2,000 years ago—ours is a God of work, a God who is constantly creating anew in us and in our world, a God who beckons us to work alongside with our own skills and passions and dreams, no matter who we are or where in the world we may live.

 Santos Fernando Sánchez García, 22, a member of the Youths Builders “Jóvenes Constructores” program supported by Catholic Relief Services in El Salvador. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services.

Santos Fernando Sánchez García, 22, a member of the Youths Builders “Jóvenes Constructores” program supported by Catholic Relief Services in El Salvador. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services.

Fernando dreams of becoming a businessman. He also dreams of a better future for his family, and this motivates him to sell cookbooks on San Salvador’s buses. It’s dangerous work for $10 a day—gangs frequently stop and harass drivers and passengers—but he keeps going, determined to achieve his dreams.

It was his dreams that led him to YouthBuild, a six-month, CRS-sponsored program that trains young people in business. There, he found a positive community to help him pursue his passion, despite the challenges of life in El Salvador. “When I tell my classmates that I want to do something, they tell me to try it and to not hold back.”

Training for six months with YouthBuild wasn’t easy on Fernando or his family. Without his wife to support him and care for their two young daughters, the early mornings and long days might have been impossible. “YouthBuild is a family because families help you realize your dreams,” Fernando says. It’s a fact he knows well.

Group photo of members of “Jóvenes Constructores” program supported by Catholic Relief Services and its local partners Glasswing. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services.

Group photo of members of “Jóvenes Constructores” program supported by Catholic Relief Services and its local partners Glasswing. Photo by Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for Catholic Relief Services.

Fernando is putting his newfound skills to work. After graduating from YouthBuild in 2016, he took part in a series of entrepreneur workshops organized by CRS and is currently working on a new business plan. He is also a part of the YouthBuild network of graduates, youth leaders who mentor other young people and look for new opportunities for employment and growth.

 

“We have a saying,” says Fernando. “Once a YouthBuilder, always a YouthBuilder.”

Fernando’ story gives us pause. Knowing that God desires us to use our passion and dreams to guide our work in building a culture of encounter gives us pause, too. Let us pause, then, and think over our own work. Do we recognize God’s hand in the tasks we are given to do? Do we embrace Jesus’ call to keep working, to enter into relationship with a Creator God who never tires? Or do we allow ourselves to give in to our frustrations, to deem a task frivolous or beneath us, to take the easy way out? Do we fail to allow God to use our efforts—no matter how seemingly small!—for God’s own greater glory?

The opportunity to create in the image and likeness of the Creator is a right of every person, the avenue through which each human being is able to more fully reveal God’s glory in the world. How, during this Lenten season, will we liberate that which is holy and hidden in the world around us?

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and Stories of Hope from 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. Read more from CRS Rice Bowl.

Immigration and Our Daily Task as Christians

Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, second from left, links arms with other participants on stage after a panel discussion on migration issues Feb. 17 during the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif.(CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

I had the privilege of attending the United States Regional Meeting of the World Meeting of Popular Movements, Feb. 16–19, in Modesto, California.

I was accompanied to Modesto by one of our Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishops David O’Connell, and it was good to see friends from our local parishes and workers’ unions here in Los Angeles.

There were more than 700 people there from across the country and around the world,  and the conversations that we had were challenging and enlightening — we discussed the persistence of racial discrimination, the threats to our natural environment, and the struggle for affordable housing and jobs that pay a living wage.

For me, the meeting was a reminder again of the power of the Church’s social doctrine. As I have said before, the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives us a beautiful vision of human dignity and the sanctity of life. And he calls us to build a society where the good things of God’s creation are shared with all.

This is our daily task as Christians — to share our bread with the hungry, to shelter the homeless and clothe the naked, to open our hearts to the oppressed and the afflicted. But our challenge is more than material and it is more than to offer charity to those in need. We are called to build a society of compassion and justice and truth and love.

My own contribution during these days was to concentrate on the issue of immigration. I had the privilege to participate in a panel discussion on migration with Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, who is a papal under-secretary for migrants and refugees in the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary for the Migrants and Refugee Section of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, listens during a small group discussion on migration issues Feb. 18 at the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

In my remarks, I shared our experience here in Los Angeles, and especially the challenges we are facing with the new administration in Washington. This is a question that is on everyone’s mind — what are we doing to help our immigrant communities and our brothers and sisters who are undocumented.

And we are trying to help every day in every way possible. Because immigrants are not numbers, they are not statistics. They are our family.

Here in Los Angeles, we have been organizing parish teams and training individuals so they know their rights as immigrants. We have helping to prepare families so they know what to do in case they are stopped by authorities. And we are trying to mobilize immigration attorneys to help those who are detained.

I think it is important in this time for us to stick together, to draw strength from one another, and to keep our eyes on Jesus. And I think it is also important for us to keep calm and to make judgments based on facts, not politics.

Unfortunately, immigration raids and deportations are nothing new. We know that. They did not start with this new president. We need to be clear-eyed about this.

The previous president deported more people than anybody in American history — more than 2.5 million people were deported. Most of these were non-violent criminals and many of them were ordinary parents who were seized from their homes, forced to leave behind their children and their spouses.

So we need to keep that perspective. What we really need is immigration reform.

Right now there is bi-partisan legislation in Congress, the “Bridge Act.” This would help hundreds of thousands of “dreamers,” young people. We need to get that bill passed. We need to start there and then we need to keep working, piece by piece, until we have fixed every aspect of our broken immigration system.

We need to keep our eyes on the prize — and the prize is immigration reform and a compassionate solution for those who are undocumented and forced to live in the shadows of our society.

So let us ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to help us to continue to stand together and work to build a society where we respect the dignity of every person as a child of God.

José H. Gómez is archbishop of Los Angeles and vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  


Going Deeper

Around the country, Catholic faith communities are responding to the call to welcome the stranger.  In Los Angeles, the Church is acting to stand with immigrants. In the South Texas Rio Grande Valley colonias of Hidalgo County, religious sisters are helping immigrant women connect, educate and empower women to champion concerns such as safety, lighting, voting rights, citizenship pathways, infrastructure and drainage, and education for themselves and their children.

Encounter Evelina

“This teaching rests on one basic principle: individual human beings are the foundation, the cause and the end of every social institution. That is necessarily so, for men are by nature social beings.”

—St. John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, # 219 (Mother and Teacher, on Christianity and social progress)

It’s a pretty radical thing to say that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. That’s what we’re talking about when we reflect on the sacredness and dignity of the human person—each one of us, every human on the planet, reflects the Divine, the Creator, God. Each of us shines forth that which is holy. None of us is left out; God is present in a unique and irreplaceable way in every human being.

What, then, happens when that unique expression of God is silenced, when that holy light is dimmed? What does our world lose? As we look out upon our global community, it’s not hard to see that some of us have access to more opportunities than others. It’s not hard to see that some of us would rather pretend that human dignity is not universal, that there are people in whom God does not dwell.

Evelina Banda, 35 years old, Petauke District, eastern Zambia. Photo by Nancy McNally/Catholic Relief Services

Evelina Banda, 35 years old, Petauke District, eastern Zambia. Photo by Nancy McNally/Catholic Relief Services

Let’s reflect on Evelina and her son, Stephen, both of whom live in Zambia. Growing up, Evelina, like generations of Zambians before her, used to survive on meals made from corn flour, usually a porridge called ‘nshima.’ “I’d eat porridge in the morning, at lunchtime and again in the evening,” she says. After all, it was cheap and easy to make.

Unfortunately, nshima has very little nutritional value—and relying too heavily on it has led to high rates of malnutrition. Many in Zambia have full bellies, but little nourishment. And this is particularly dangerous for children under the age of two, who need high levels of vitamins and minerals to grow up healthy and strong. That means mothers who are nursing—as well as their children—need nutritious meals.

Evelina Banda, 35 years old, with her son, Steven, 16 months old, in Ndombi Village, Zambia. Photo by Jim Stipe/Catholic Relief Services

Evelina Banda, 35 years old, with her son, Steven, 16 months old, in Ndombi Village, Zambia. Photo by Jim Stipe/Catholic Relief Services

So, CRS is teaching women like Evelina how to prepare healthier meals and grow new, vitamin-rich crops like peanuts, pumpkins and sugar cane. In many cases, these crops were already being grown in the village. Now, Evelina and others are adding more nutritious food to their children’s nshima: ground peanuts or eggs, for example. And, what the women learn, they share with their community—especially expectant mothers.

“We sing and dance during the cooking lessons because we are happy to learn how to cook different types of food,” says Evelina. Evelina is healthier, and so is her son, Steven. “I know I am taking good care of him, because he’s full of energy, he’s strong and never sick,” she says, with a smile.

We see in this story an opportunity to protect and promote the dignity of the human person. Our care for and commitment to individuals and communities—even those far away—is vital. We need only look to Jesus who stood with those on the margins, affirming their dignity, their right to an abundant life even if it meant his own death.

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and Stories of Hope from 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. Read more from CRS Rice Bowl.

Encounter the Singh Family

“Love for others, and in the first place, love for the poor, in whom the Church sees Christ himself, is made concrete in the promotion of justice.

—St. John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, #58 (On the Hundredth Year)

 Jesus lived a life of poverty, from his humble birthplace to his death alongside common criminals. He lived among the poor; he cared for them and taught others to do the same. Working with and for those trapped by poverty was not an add-on, or an extra thing to do if there was time; for Jesus, it was a requirement of daily life, a way of encountering God.

We must ask ourselves: What does the preferential option for the poor mean in our own concrete, nitty-gritty realities? Who are these least among us? How do we find them? How do we ensure that we keep seeking the poorest of the poor, those in whom Christ is ever present?

Let’s reflect on how the option for the poor can be brought to life in India.

When the Malaguni River in East India floods, Megha and Raj Singh, their two children and their extended family cannot get to the nearest market—nearly five miles away—to buy and sell food. If the waters do not recede quickly, their rice fields fail, and their animals become sick from diseases spread through dirty water. The family faces financial danger.

That’s why CRS is helping the Singh family prepare for flooding with new farming tools and techniques. Now Raj plants his fields worry-free using a special type of rice that can survive flooding. He can collect and save his seeds for future use. And he now has the resources he needs to vaccinate his cows, ensuring they, too, survive the floods.

Megharani (Megha) Baliar Singh. Photo by Jennifer Hardy/Catholic Relief Services

Megharani (Megha) Baliar Singh. Photo by Jennifer Hardy/Catholic Relief Services

Megha grows vegetables in a kitchen garden, so her family has healthy meals even when she can’t visit the market. During past floods, the family had to survive solely on rice. But now, planting veggies in special sacks, she is able to raise the plants above flood lines, ensuring her family has reliable access to nutritious food.

Just as important, Megha has learned new ways of growing food, so that the entire family gets the most nutrition out of every meal. Now, the whole Singh family is healthier, and with these new ways of farming, they can continue to thrive, even during floods.

After having reflected on life in India, think about your daily life. Think about the people you encounter each week, each day. Think about the people you don’t encounter, those you intentionally avoid or forget even exist. Think about the people you step around or whose eyes you don’t meet. Are these the “least brothers” of Jesus?

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and Stories of Hope from 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. Read more from CRS Rice Bowl.

Sowers of Change, Protagonists for Social Justice, and Bold Leaders of Action

Attendees cheer a statement about justice for immigrants Feb. 16 during a the opening program of the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. (CNS photo/Dennis Sadowski)

Midway through the U.S. Regional Meeting of World Popular Movements in Modesto, California, a strong wind came up which almost blew off the metal protections of the roof of the beautiful new gym where we were meeting at Central Catholic High School.

The force and the noise of the wind reflected the force and noise of the gathering of over 700 inter faith delegates of community organizations from around the United States, with some international representation also. The force was a powerful wind of strong voices calling for the popular movements to be sowers of change, protagonists for social justice, and bold leaders of action in bringing down the walls that divide the struggles against the systems that Pope Francis mentioned in his letter of greeting to the gathering.  The Pope wrote about being confronted by “a system that causes enormous suffering to the human family, simultaneously assaulting people’s dignity and our Common Home in order to sustain the invisible tyranny of money that only guarantees the privileges of a few.”

Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., listens to a speaker Feb. 18 at the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif. His diocese hosted the event. (CNS/Dennis Sadowski)

Many voices then spoke from diverse perspectives but shared the urgency of being one people in one fight (one ‘witness’ as Cardinal Peter Turkson called it) “to rebuild society in which every person is seen as fully human, has a full voice in the decisions that shape their lives, and is able to thrive and reach their human potential.”  The noise was that of great enthusiasm for “disrupting oppression and dehumanization” as Bishop Robert McElroy, Archbishop Jose Gomez, and others spoke about and “rebuilding” systems that promote and protect justice in ownership of land, for working people, in housing, for immigrants, and in ending racism. One might wonder why the meeting was held in Modesto, California, and not some large city easily reachable by modern modes of transportation. The answer simply is that the planners felt that the great Central Valley in California provided a location that reflected the challenges being faced all over the country.

The Central Valley is one of the richest agricultural areas in the world but struggles with issues of water, clean air, higher unemployment, lower wages, thousands of annual migrant farm workers, large percentages of immigrant peoples, human trafficking, homelessness, and a host of other social issues including violent gangs, hunger, school drop outs, etc.   But at the same time there are so many who live in the Central Valley who want to make life better for all who live and work there. The Regional Meeting received a warm welcome and recognition by those who knew about its purpose. What made this meeting different from other church or community gatherings?

Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, poses for a photo Feb. 16 with Lira DeMoraes, a volunteer with the Merrimack Valley Project in Massachussetts at the start of the U.S. regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto, Calif.

It was the first time in the United States that community organizers from across the land were invited by the Church to come together so that the Church might hear from the people experiencing exclusion, dehumanization, and the pain of poverty.  Pope Francis had previously convened three World Meetings of Popular Movements. He spoke at all three about overcoming the globalization of indifference by “placing the economy at the service of peoples; working for peace and justice; and defending Mother Earth.” To this regional gathering in the United States the Pope sent a written greeting wishing that the “constructive energy” of this meeting “would spread to all dioceses, because it builds bridges between peoples and individuals…that can overcome the walls of exclusion, indifference, racism, and intolerance.” The Holy Father acknowledged with gratitude the sponsors of this gathering: The Catholic Campaign for Human Development; the host bishops from the three dioceses in the Central Valley; and Cardinal Peter Turkson, who leads the new Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and expressed his support of the popular movements.  What was different was that Catholic dioceses hosted and the Catholic Campaign for Human Development of USCCB sponsored the meeting, which was organized and run by the popular movements under the leadership of the PICO (People Improving Communities through Organizing) National Network and other organizing networks. Pope Francis highlighted PICO’s work for promoting this meeting.

Although representatives of the Churches did speak and were well received, the Church leaders, including over 20 Catholic bishops, were there to listen and to accompany participants in the dialogues.  The message from the delegates at the end of the meeting was addressed to the popular movements and leaders in the United States and globally and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Pope Francis. The message quoted Pope Francis and Catholic bishops extensively but also laid out the challenge, urging “our clergy and faith communities to speak and act boldly in solidarity with our people.” The message quoted Cardinal Tobin in his video address to the gathering that “faith leaders need to walk out in front and show that they are not afraid.” Pope Francis was indeed the inspiration for this gathering. Cardinal Turkson, by his presence and in his words, gave strong witness for the Church’s commitment to the integral development of the human person. Every human person has been created in the image and likeness of God, and full human development gives glory to God.

Stephen E. Blaire is bishop of Stockton, California.


 Going Deeper

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development provides ongoing support for community groups that work to transform their communities. Visit our map to find out where this work is happening where you live—then get involved!

We Encounter Our God

Eric Clayton, CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer

Eric Clayton, CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer

God’s vision can be scary. Sometimes, it’s easier to avoid encountering God. What might God ask of us? Will it be in line with what we ourselves want?

We hear Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” This is Christ’s prayer on the night before he died—through prayer, he encounters God. Yet, God asks something of Jesus that could not be more difficult. And Jesus carries on.

Realizing God’s vision for humanity is not an easy thing. We see in the Garden of Gethsemane that God enters deeply into human suffering, that not even Christ himself can avoid this all-too-prevalent part of the human experience. Indeed, we see in the Garden—and perhaps we recognize in our own lives—that God is at work through suffering, that we must enter into those dark moments in order to bring to fruition God’s great dreams for us and for others.

As we look out at our world, perhaps we, too, carry on our lips that prayer of Jesus in the Garden. That’s okay. That’s an honest and intense encounter with our God, a God who asks that we live the Gospel call to mercy, justice and love no matter the cost.

But we also know that the story did not end in the Garden. It didn’t end on the cross. It didn’t even end in the tomb. Rather, God makes all things new, emerging victorious in even the darkest of hours. God calls forth from us great and wondrous things if we have the courage to encounter within ourselves those seeds of love that God has planted.

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and stories from 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. Continue reflecting on how you can contribute to the culture of encounter with the CRS Rice Bowl app.

This reflection was first published in CRS Rice Bowl’s Encounter Lent: Theological & Scriptural Reflections.

Going Deeper

Read about how one religious community uses restorative justice circles to help communities break free from the cycle of violence to experience hope, peace and healing.  How are you called to help realize God’s vision for humanity by working to restore or repair what is broken?