Far from home, millions of displaced people seek safety
They continue to make voyages in overladen boats. They continue to trek over mountains and desert. They continue to escape the urban battlefields of Syria and Ukraine. Refugees who flee the horrors of their former lives now press upon the borders of distant nations that are unprepared or unwilling to receive them. The dispossessed are blessed to find even a moment of salvation, for many of their kin and countrymen have died along the way.
Nations often experience an influx of refugees from neighboring or overseas conflicts. World War II produced a terrible exodus in the last century, but those figures are now eclipsed. Recent spikes in migration come from Syrians and Iraqis—victims of civil war or ISIS brutality—who enter Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and then Europe.
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) offers a sobering look at trends in “global forced displacement” in their report, World at War:
“By end-2014, 59.5 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations. This is 8.3 million persons more than the year before (51.2 million) and the highest annual increase in a single year.”
These numbers can only expand dramatically by 2016. More than half the world’s refugees are children. Catholic Relief Services has often attended to their needs with education, medical care, and trauma counseling. Sadly, some children are lost between their shattered homes and foreign shores. The world has already seen the image of a three-year-old boy named Aylan Kurdi, whose body was found face-down on a beach in Turkey not far from the bodies of his mother and older brother.
As governments respond to this exodus, others are doing their best to help refugees on the road. CRS has partnered with Church organizations in Greece, Serbia, Albania, and Macedonia?all major waypoints?to give out essentials at transit points: water, food, medical aid, sleeping bags, sanitation, hygiene kits, and asylum information. Asylum in particular is a critical matter: migrants are not well informed of protocol when seeking refuge abroad or able to find information in their own language. CRS provides interpretation and legal services to help refugees make proper decisions when interacting with foreign officials.
While some nations raise physical and political barriers against the dispossessed, others have agreed to admit small numbers of refugees. Pope Francis has asked European parishes to provide for families in distress. The United States has accepted some of the dispossessed that enter the asylum process.
CRS further urges us to contact our representatives to accommodate more refugees in our country, add diplomatic pressure to stop the violent catalysts of mass-migration, and consider donating to active relief efforts in the Middle East and abroad.
Sen. Edward J. Markey: 218 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-2742, markey.senate.gov/contact
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: 317 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington DC 20510, (202) 224-4543, warren.senate.gov
Congressman Michael Capuano: 202-225-5111, capuano.house.gov/contact
Bishops ask Catholics to take action for immigration reform
April 4, 2014. On April 1, Cardinal Seán O’Malley joined bishops in Nogales, Arizona for a “Mass on the Border” to pray for migrants who have died trying to cross the desert and enter the United States. The Mass follows an invitation from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for all Catholics to unite in prayer, fasting, and action for immigration reform. The event was held outdoors in Nogales on the corner of International Street and Nelson Avenue, directly beside a metal boundary that separates Arizona from Mexico. People in bordering Nogales—the Mexican city of the same name—observed through openings in the barrier. During the event, Cardinal Seán offered Holy Communion to Mexicans through a gap in the border fence.
“We know that the border is lined with unmarked graves of thousands who have died alone and nameless,” said the Cardinal to attendees. “We are here to say today, they are not forgotten. Sometimes they are called illegal aliens, an expression that makes them sound like Martians. They are our neighbors. They are our brothers and sisters.”
Undocumented migrants face many hazards to reach the United States. In 2005, 472 migrants perished in various attempts to cross the border. In 2013, 445 deaths were reported by the Border Patrol. Most of these tragedies were in the Arizona desert—a harsh wilderness that has killed travelers regardless of their legal status. Migrants are also threatened by traffickers who smuggle them into the country, often because they can’t pay the heavy sums demanded for their passage. Those who enter America are met with discrimination and suspicion, while separated from their families for years.
Bishops from El Paso, Tucson, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Atlanta, and Las Cruces joined the “Mission for Migrants”—a trip that mirrors Pope Francis’s visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa to remember African migrants who perished attempting to reach Europe.
Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the USCCB Migration Committee, noted, “We exhibit our own indifference when we minimize or ignore this suffering and death, as if these people are not worth our attention. It degrades us as a nation.”
Catholics can join in prayer with the bishops in several ways:
1. By advocating for immigration reform, sending an electronic postcard to members of Congress, or by calling 1-855-589-5698 to “support a path to citizenship and oppose the SAFE Act.”
2. By fasting in solidarity with migrants and immigrants. Fasting turns peoples’ attention away from their own needs and allows them to open their hearts to the suffering of others.
3. By spreading the word via social media, using the Twitter hashtag #BorderMass and following the latest developments on Facebook and Twitter.
Where do you stand?
July 23, 2014. It is an ancient story Jews and Christians have repeated through the ages. It goes to the heart of the Judeo-Christian understanding of the mercy of God as our protector, savior, and our hope, and it began centuries ago in Egypt with the birth of a little boy. The boy was born into a Jewish family at a time when the Pharaoh was oppressing the Jewish slaves. He decided to kill all newborn boys. The mother, rather than face the death of her baby, placed the innocent child in a basket among the reeds of a river bank. The child was rescued and adopted by the daughter of the Pharaoh and named Moses.
Tragically, in this new age, the story is being repeated as mothers send their children out of harm’s way across the border to the United States. Most of the children are fleeing the violence born of destitution and poverty in Central America. San Pedro Sula, for example, is the second largest city in Honduras and the gang violence in some of the neighborhoods is such that parents know their child will be forced to join a gang or be killed.
For these poor families, leaving is the only way they see to a safer option. Thirty-two children (under 18 years) were killed in Honduras in June alone. Sometimes the ages are under 10 years or less. World leaders, the United Nations, and our own government desperately need to seek ways to work with the governments of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, the countries from which the majority of children are fleeing, to address the root causes of this exodus. But in the meantime, we must also respond to the needs of those crossing our borders for safe refuge.
Here in the U.S., the Catholic Bishops are asking citizens to urge Congress to act in compassionate ways within laws and funding levels to protect unaccompanied children who are fleeing the violence and seeking refuge in this country. More details about how each of us can act are contained in this bulletin. I hope you will refer to them and choose to act on them.
The questions of immigration have long been a challenge for this young nation. Our forbearers arrived here from their homelands seeking a better life and often escaping dire poverty and suffering. As we all know they found opportunities, and through hard work and determination, yoked with faith and family, success was all but guaranteed. I do not think today’s immigrants are much different from my grandfather. However the moral, religious, ethical, and political climate has changed significantly.
Now we have allowed fear to enter and define so much of our response. It is fear of our capacity to receive others, of their needs and our resources, of their differences in language, culture and religion, of the political implications one way or another. We are suspicious of the motives of the new arrivals, fearing we are being taken advantage of and fearful their entry will mean less (somehow) for us.
How is it that fear has been allowed to be a determining factor in these matters? What happened to faith? What happened to charity, kindness, and respect for the dignity of another who is suffering? Since when has our responsibility to be our “brother’s keeper” been replaced by suspicion and fear that our brother’s needs are his fault and his problem–alone?
The faith traditions of our time call on all to receive the stranger with thoughtful kindness. Jesus continually emphasized the responsibility to care for the widow and orphan (the weakest and most in need in the community). The current debate of how our nation ought to respond is exposing an ugly underbelly of a nation turning inward in fear and selfishness.
The issues at hand are daunting. They are huge and overcoming them will be a real challenge. Being afraid of them is an unworthy response from a great people with a tradition of generosity and goodness. We can do better and many states, like our own, are seeking to be involved with effective responses.
I intend to get involved and I urge you to as well, for I cannot overlook Jesus’ evocative words, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren you did it to me” (Mt. 25:30).