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Compassion: The Refugee Crisis

September 29, AD2015

Chelsea - flight

While watching the movie The Good Lie about refugees from Sudan last weekend, I couldn’t help thinking about how vulnerable one must be as a refugee;  to have absolutely nothing, not even the basic necessities of life. It is not even to be dependent on another for these necessities, but to be looking for another to give them to you. It was poignant to see the depiction of Sudanese children surviving amidst death all around them, hunger, disease and unspeakable violence.

This reflection was, of course, very relevant since I live in Europe and that is all we hear about on the news these days. There are thousands of refugees pouring into Europe, more than 332,000 having arrived this year. They come from terrible conditions and terrible things happen to men, women and children on their journeys.

How Can Anyone Reject a Refugee?

There is a natural tendency to protect oneself and to only help when you are in conditions to be able to help. British prime minister David Cameron’s talk about building a wall with France has sparked intense debate. Hungary and Austria invest in soldiers to shut their borders while Germany imposes more controls. Croatia closes its roads.

Yet, who could reject a refugee? They come from countries torn with war and genocide. They have seen their family members murdered. They are operating on the basic instinct of trying to protect themselves and their families. There is talk that some could be terrorists, but mainly they are trying to escape terrorism.

In Europe and the US we, live in highly “comfortable” societies. Of course, there is a more masqueraded genocide called abortion and corrupt leaders that skew values and morality to please our sinful natures, but there is no war. People aren’t being slain in the street. On the contrary, obesity and consumerism plague the US and Europe.

Being Catholic is understanding that strength comes in vulnerability. It is recognizing Christ’s open arms on the cross and the vulnerability of love. To love means to open oneself to true communion, but also the possibility of getting hurt. Christ and his Church have always valiantly defended the poor, the widow, the orphan…the refugee!

Are We Not Called To Be Our Neighbor’s Keeper?

Pope Francis has said time and time again that the refugees in Europe are to be welcomed. Not in soup lines far away from our houses, or in distant camps, but into our neighborhoods, our parishes. That is counter-cultural.

Therefore, before the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy, I make an appeal to parishes, religious communities, monasteries and shrines of all Europe, that they give expression to an application of the Gospel and welcome a family of refugees. A concrete gesture in preparation for the Holy Year of Mercy.

That every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every shrine of Europe welcome one family, beginning with my Diocese of Rome.

I address my brother bishops of Europe, true pastors, so that in their dioceses they back my appeal, remembering that Mercy is the second name of Love: “What you have done for the least of my brothers, that you have done for me.”

The two parishes of the Vatican will also in the coming days welcome two families of refugees. (Pope Francis Angelus Address 9/6/15)

Pope Francis again touched upon the issue of refugees during his recent apostolic visit to the US when he addressed the Congress, saying “Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War”. He appealed to the Golden Rule, reminding us to

Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.

As the Year of Mercy approaches, let us not harden our hearts to the most vulnerable. Let us not sit on the high horses of our political agendas and merciless stereotypes, but instead let God open our eyes and see the world as He sees it.

Pope Francis doesn’t say what the “left” would like him to say or what the “right” would like him to say, but let’s instead let him be the leader of our Church. Let God teach us how to see current events in a greater picture of salvation history and how to love our most vulnerable brothers and sisters, near and far.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

Filed in: Social Justice

About the Author:

Julie Machado is a 30-year-old Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal to study theology. She now lives there, along with the rest of her family, her husband and her children. She believes the greatest things in life are small and hidden and that the extraordinary is in the ordinary. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

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  • Phillip

    This is a modification of a letter to the editor I sent to our local Catholic paper.
    This article brings to mind Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate where he taught, “Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived… Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality.” So what is the truth regarding immigration?

    First, St. John Paul II taught on World Migration Day, “Illegal immigration should be prevented…” Note he uses the term illegal immigrant. Is he denigrating these migrants? Of course not. Saying that a person has acted against the law does not deny their humanity. But it does highlight the injustice of illegal immigration in that it violates the right of the state to set reasonable limits on migration as the Church teaches. This applies to refugees also.
    It also does injustice to those who have followed the law to come here legally. And a vast number do follow the law. The United States accepts one million immigrants legally each year. That is more than the rest of the world combined. Currently, 15% or 45 million of the U.S. population is foreign born. To say that the U.S. is not generous in its immigration policy is patently false.

    In the same message, St. John Paul II also gave this truth “When no solution is foreseen, these same institutions should direct those they are helping, perhaps also providing them with material assistance, either to seek acceptance in other countries, or to return to their own country.” When it is determined to be reasonable, illegal immigrants can be sent elsewhere – even back to their homeland. This is Catholic teaching and not mere ideology.

    The problem with the article ultimately is summarized, again, by Caritas in Veritate “Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way.” Catholics then, in good faith, can have reasoned solutions to the immigration problem that differ from what the Catholic Commentator proposes.

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