Refugees: “A Shameful Wound of Our Time”?



One doesn’t have to travel far to find a divergent opinion on the so called “Syrian refugee crisis”. The world is struggling to come up with a response. Our instinct is to love and show compassion for the refugee. This instinct is then sifted through religious perspectives and our national interests. The result of that sifting is a most obvious struggle for the Christian to understand and apply what our faith has to say about addressing the refugee. The Church groans under the weight of this pivotal moment in time. Refugees are, after all, fleeing Syria and other swaths of the Middle East right now, even as I write this, not later. So if a response is due, it is necessarily due now, and not later. What is the faithful Catholic to make of this “refugee crisis?”

First Things First

Christians, at the heart of their faith, are motivated by undeserved and unrestrained love. This selfless love is what led our Savior into the heart of a hostile people, to deliver up his life for that hostile people and at once display the ultimate manifestation of the greatest love that the world will ever know. This is the Christ that we follow and look to as our example. Christians are a people of love. Because the Christian understands their own former alienation from the cross of Christ, in which they were  “hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds” (Colossians 1:21) and their subsequent reconciliation, motivated by the loving act of the Cross, they are inspired to look at every other soul with the same kind of hope that they themselves have found. Of course for a humanity that is plagued by sin and only sees things “imperfectly, as puzzling reflections in a mirror” (1 Cor. 13:12), living out this Christian ethic of love is not always so easy to do – things are not always so cut and dry, it seems. It is easy to understand that as Catholics we must love, because Christ first loved us, but what is not so easy is knowing how to love. When we talk about refugees, it is often this how to love them and care for them that muddies up the water.

International Refugees and a Pastoral Call

Shortly after the attacks in Paris, France, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration issued a statement to the American faithful, which you can read in it’s entirety, here. The encouragement of the statement was to not halt the allowance of refugees into the United States. The statement was also aimed at encouraging able nations to work tirelessly to resolve the conflicts abroad and strive for peace. The statement does, however, lack a full treatment of what it means to be a refugee and how the Christian ought to think about the refugee. To understand this question more fully, we have to turn to other sources. My primary source for this reflection will be “Refugees: A Challenge to Solidarity“, produced in 1992 by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

We will discover what the Church has to say on the matter together, as we unpack and summarize her pastoral call in this article. But at the onset, we will note the challenge that Catholics face: We know, because our faith clearly teaches, that we must love and care for the poor and needy – this most certainly encompasses the refugee. And Catholic’s have a strong tradition of doing just that; look no further than Mother Teresa or Elizabeth of Hungary for examples par excellence. What Catholics seek today is not only the wisdom of how to respond to the refugees worldwide, but also how to talk about them. It is evident that this is a crisis of attitude and tone as much as it is a crisis of action and practicality.

The Sincerity Behind the Divide

The world suffered a terrible blow on September 11, 2001. This tragic event changed the scope of our struggle against evil in this world. It ushered in an era of wide-spread, world-wide terrorist activity. This terrorism, meant to instill fear and incite further violence, has affected every part of the world and these public attacks are still a daily occurrence. Terrible, vicious attacks occur in the heart of the Middle East, against Muslims, in Israel, against Jews and in the city centers of Europe, against Christians. There is seemingly no nationality or religious tradition that remains unaffected by the hatred that drives terrorists to kill innocent people. A natural, basic instinct is to protect those whom we love. It is no crime to want to keep the bad guys out of our communities. The desire to defend our families, our churches, our nation against the onslaught of terrorist violence is a good thing. (CCC 2263-2267)

But we must remember the goal of terrorism: to instill fear. To instill a fear that casts a dark pall over any goodness, any graces, any intrinsic love in our humanity.

As I have talked about before, fear is the antithesis of hope. Where fear anticipates some future evil, hope anticipates some future good. Catholics are a people of hope. We have hope because Christ rose up from the dead. And if there was no resurrection, no Easter hope, then our faith is in vain. It is because of this fact that we must examine our hearts, look the evil of terrorism in the eye and ask the question: what is this wicked reality instilling at the core of my heart and my view of the world? If the answer is fear, we must re-examine our conscience and let it be once again informed by our Christian hope.

Refugees and the Counsel of the Church

Thus, we have established three things thus far, we recognize: 1) The call of the Christian is to love and care for the “least of those among us”, which includes the refugee; 2) It is right and good to protect the ones we love, our families, our country men and even those who are vulnerable beyond our shores from the threat of terrorism and violence; 3) there is great tension between these two realities. We are tasked with walking that line of tension and with developing an attitude and practice that upholds the inherent dignity of every human being, without consideration of race, nationality or religion, while at once remaining faithful stewards of our state in life.

In the 1992 document, “Refugees: A Challenge to Solidarity”, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People (hereafter referred to as “the Pontifical Council”) outlines primary areas of concern with regards to refugees worldwide. I will highlight but a few:

Protection of refugees is a duty and responsibility for the Christian:

Protection is not a simple concession made to the refugee: he is not an object of assistance, but rather a subject of rights and duties. Each country has the responsibility to respect the rights of refugees and assure that they are respected as much as the rights of its own citizens.

The immediate needs of the refugee transcends the interests of the State and even national security in deference to the dignity of the refugee as a human person:

The problem of refugees must be confronted at its roots, that is, at the level of the very causes of exile. The first point of reference should not be the interests of the State, or national security but the human person, so that the need to live in community, a basic requirement of the very nature of human beings, will be safeguarded.

Refugee camps may be necessary, but they are not ideal:

Refugee camps, necessary though not ideal structures for initial reception, should be located in places as far away as possible from armed conflict, secure from possible attacks. They should also be organized in such a way as to allow refugees to enjoy a minimum of privacy and medical, educational and religious services. The inhabitants should also be protected from the various forms of moral and physical violence, and have the possibility of participating in decisions that affect their daily living. Security provisions should be strengthened where single women are housed to avoid those forms of violence to which they are often subjected.

Protection of refugees must extend beyond physical protection of the displaced:

Conventional refugees” already have been offered some measure of protection; however, such protection must not be limited to a guarantee of physical integrity but must be extended to all the conditions necessary for a fully human existence. Thus they must be assured not only food, clothing, housing and protection from violence, but also access to education and medical assistance, and the possibility of assuming responsibility for their own lives, cultivating their own cultures and traditions, and freely expressing their own faith.

The fact that most of these present refugees are Muslim does not distract us from our mission, for we remember:

Cooperation among the various Christian Churches and the various non- Christian religions in this charitable work will lead to new advances in the search for and the implementation of a deeper unity of the human family. The experience of exile can become a particular time of grace, just as it was for the People, who, when exiled in the desert and came to know the name of God and experience his liberating power.

Stay focused

We are not called to bring the refugees into our very homes, necessarily. To say that this is the standard creates a false dichotomy wherein we must either move the refugee into our bedroom, or keep them as far away as possible. We are called, however, by the Holy Father himself, to open up our parishes to these refugees in exile. Our hearts should be open to this, going as far as possible to help, even if it is risky, for the sake of love. Pope St. John Paul the Great once asked, “Are you capable of risking your life for another? Do it for Christ.”

John Paul II also called the reality of any refugee in exile a “Shameful wound of our time”. The most poignant call of the Pontifical Council gets to the heart of our Catholic faith:

The Christian community must overcome fear and suspicion toward refugees, and be able to see in them the Savior’s face.

We are all refugees to the heart of Christ. This is the transformative idea that redeems mankind, transcends nationalities and even differences in religion.


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22 thoughts on “Refugees: “A Shameful Wound of Our Time”?”

  1. Pingback: Online text: “Refugees: A Challenge to Solidarity”, by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum | Catholic eBooks Project

  2. The shame of it all is that instead of agonizing over the effects of violence (including refugees), actions are not taken to treat the cause of the problem. While we may no longer send a British punitive expedition to treat the problem, see Kitchener at Omdurman, we can certainly use more modern means to eliminate the causes of the current crisis. From Sun Tzu to Grenada to the Falklands, early decisive action has the greatest remedial effect.

  3. The moral demise of a country always precedes its ultimate demise.

    Abortion, euthanasia, same-sex “marriage,”, etc. To institutionalize sin into the laws of our country is to invite our destruction. The biggest threat to our national security is immorality. Why? Sin darkens the mind and makes one more in sync with one’s tormenting demon. This makes us act irrationally, what appears to others as stupid. We are no longer operating in the light, where we can clearly see truth. That, in turn, makes us vulnerable to attack and destruction.

  4. Saint Vincent of Lerins

    Catholics keep electing pro aborts, contracepting, divorce and remarriage. So I don’t think we have to feel guilty about sending every Muslim back to wherever they came from. Oh, and Catholics better start having babies again.

  5. One final flaw. (At least for now.) The bishops claim: “The first point of reference should not be the interests of the State, or national security but the human person, so that the need to live in community, a basic requirement of the very nature of human beings, will be safeguarded.”

    But what is the state or nation but a community of persons? The bishops seem to advance a disordered understanding of the person in this way. For they seem to claim that the state or nation is some abstract organization which can be superseded by the needs of individuals. But this is a false understanding of the person. For a person does not only “need to live in community” but it is persons that constitute community – they create and maintain it and in turn are nurtured by it. It is an organic reality and not merely an abstract system of laws and conventions. Thus, to claim that one group of persons can be put at risk for the sake of others is not only disordered, but fundamental denies the dignity of persons in the community of the nation.

  6. “…hope anticipates some future good. Catholics are a people of hope.”

    More so, Christians are a people of the theological virtue of Hope. As opposed to hope (or more correctly, according to your definition, optimism) Hope is the assurance of those things promised will be fulfilled. Of course for Catholics, that assurance only reaches its fulness in Heaven and is what the this virtue is aimed at. This virtue, tied with Faith, leads us then to true Charity which is an authentic love for others founded and flowing from the love of God.

    “A natural, basic instinct is to protect those whom we love. It is no crime to want to keep the bad guys out of our communities.”

    But I would say this is not merely instinctual but a truly human response for those close to us. For the Christian this is further elevated by the love for Christ and purified by this love. However, this love is necessarily hierarchical as true love is expressed by showing greater concern for those nearer us (i.e. family, friends and then community and Nation.) In fact, if we do not love those closest to us best, we cannot love those who are alien to us.

    “The call of the Christian is to love and care for the “least of those among us”, which includes the refugee…”

    True enough, but if such love must be based in truth. The first truth is that we must ensure that the love for others does not compromise the love of those God has placed closest to us. If it does, than it is not true love but rather the hubris of pride which claims to be able to do all things.

  7. “ immediate needs of the refugee transcends the interests of the State and even national security in deference to the dignity of the refugee as a human person”

    A wonderful principle. Of course balanced the the principle which states that one cannot do good through evil. Then there is the principle that all persons are equal and that one’s needs cannot come at the expense of the legitimate needs of another. Then there is the principle that these judgments must be in accord with the truth.

    So can one do good at the expense of the legitimate defense of another? Per the principle of not doing good through evil, I would say no. Can one allow exorbitant numbers of refugees at the expense of the good of the citizens of the state through increase in welfare payments, security costs and depressed wages? Per the principle that the needs of one cannot come at the expense of another, we again can say no. Is the declaration that these individuals are refugees even in accord with the truth? Well, it seems upwards of 75% of the individuals are single men of military age, that many of these are not from Syria but are merely looking for a better economic situation and that intelligence agencies have reported that ISIS is using the refugee situation to infiltrate fighters in the West, one can say that the truth is far from the simplistic situation advanced by the first principle.

  8. Even France is staying committed to accepting 30,000 Syrian refugees after the Paris attacks. Perhaps this is because of the high number of Catholics in France and their commitment to helping those in need?

  9. Charlie,
    Do not be discouraged for your words are true, but Truth does not always find a safe harbor even in those hearts which profess to be Christian. Your picture exposes the raw tragedy beautifully. We need more articles like this to soften our hearts, so that we may become fearless Christians.

    1. Laurence Charles Ringo

      In a way,I have to go with WelderChick on this one.Whatever our response to the refugee situation will be,we don’t have Biblical leeway to be foolish Christians,accepting all and sundry willy-nilly; we are called to be wise and prudent in our dealings with ALL of those who may have hidden agendas and may indeed seek to do us and our families harm.There is NO mandate, even from The Saviour Himself,to simply trust our and our loved ones’ safety and well-beingin some idealistic, reckless manner; there were many opportunities for His enemies to attempt to destroy Him,but as He Himself made clear:…”Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life,that I might take it again.No man taketh from me,but I lay it down of myself”… (The Gospel of John,chapter 10,vss.17,18b–KJV.)–So…more light,less heat,people. Mull and reflect on the situation,please.

  10. What this article outlines is perfectly fine for refugees of non muslim origin. I completely disagree with this and what the bishops say when it comes to muslims. In particular: The immediate needs of the refugee transcends the interests of the State and even national security in deference to the dignity of the refugee as a human person.

    Nope, it doesn’t. We are talking about people who practice a religion that COMMANDS both in it’s “holy” book (and I do NOT believe it to be holy at all; it comes from satan) and in it’s leader, Mohammed to subjugate all non muslims. You are given ONE chance to convert, no more. Then you either pay a huge tax for the rest of your life; become a slave; or are murdered. This is a fact. Terrorists ARE hiding themselves as refugees. This is also a fact.

    To bring such a determined, secretive, and guerrilla force that we KNOW is hiding among these refugees is national suicide. Even the early Christians, in the NT didn’t take care of pagan and Jewish widows and orphans, but Christian ones. For one thing, the pagans and Jews were trying to kill them all off!

    Part of the pillars of their “religion” is charity towards other muslims. Seems to me that MUSLIM nations can set up the camps and take in the muslim refugees. We can take the Christian ones (there are several easy ways to figure out who is who). Christians can certainly donate food, clothing, medicine, etc (but not money as it could too easily go to the terrorists).

    1. Where in the words of Christ do you read that we need not welcomes Muslims into out lives and our communities? Where in the words of the RCC do you learn that we should not welcome Muslims into our lives and Communities. Matt 25 clearly states that the homeless are to be housed by Christians because they are the person of Christ, He excludes no one. He also notes that the kingdom is not open to those who refuse.

      Matt 25: 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

      Eternal punishment for those who do not shelter, feed, visit, care for….HOW much clearer did He need to be? Do you read any exceptions? Did he tell someone other than Christians about this mandate? If you are a Christian you need to rely on Christ’s direct mandates not revisions through peoples’ ill practices.
      Frankly, your diatribe is xenophobic and departs from Christ’s direct mandate to love those who hate you and turn the other cheek. Christianity is not a religion of insularity and protectionism. Your comment attempts to justify a sentiment which is opposed to Christ’s direct words.

    2. And I have said over and over that Muslim refugees can be cared for in Muslim countries and Christians are free to help the efforts of those caring for them thru monetary and material contributions. If you wish to do otherwise, go and contact the relevant agencies and volunteer to open your home to house them.

      And ensuring the safety of my family, the people God has first entrusted to me is not xenophobic. It’s doing what He commanded.

    3. So you’re telling me that you let into your house any and all strangers that come to your door. Your wife and kids are ok with this? Your willing to risk them being gang raped in front of you then tortured to death while you’re made to watch?

      And you’re visiting the prisoners in the jail nearest you on a regular basis? How many sick people are you taking care of, assuming you are NOT a nurse, nurses’ aid or doctor?

      See, I don’t deny God’s word. What I AM denying is that your interpretation is the only valid one.

      Husband’s duty to wife:
      Ephesians 5:25-31,33
      Christ died to protect His bride, the Church, from the evil one. With the exception of very young children (8-9 or younger for the boys, 16 or younger for girls) and the mothers of those children, none of the male muslims can be trusted. You simply can’t tell who is a jihadist and who isn’t until you either catch them plotting something or they are attacking you. So any husband deliberately letting in someone who would harm his wife is not doing what Christ commanded he do towards his wife.

      Parents duties to children:
      127:3-5; 128:1-4
      Children are a blessing. They are to be protected, taught God’s word and laws, disciplined so they know right from wrong. The parents who put their children deliberately in harm’s way, like those who sacrificed their kids to Molech were destroyed by God. So parents who deliberately expose their children to people who have already shown by their words and actions that they wish to kill any non muslim (except the girls which they will rape and then sell as sex slaves) and disobeying what God told them to do concerning their children.

    4. Adam,
      Give us a biblcal reference for euthanasia being wrong; porn being wrong; in vitro fertilization being wrong; masturbation being wrong; torture being wrong.; modern slavery being wrong. There are a host of issues that even the Church does not give a biblical reference for but you want our welder to do what the Church doesn’t do.

    5. Well, respecting euthanasia, you have “Thou shall not kill…”; porn…Matthew’s exception for Mosaic divorce deals with “except for porneia”; ; torture, slavery…”Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s all there in nearly black and white …. now for in vitro and masturbation? I suppose you could stretch Onan a bit to cover the latter. Personally, I do not consider the latter two really wrong …. but’s that’s me and medicine, psychology and psychiatry..

    6. Please…porneia meant porn? It is not even a latter meaning at blueletterbible research section. You could divorce for porn but not infidelity? Lol.
      Euthanasia…you have Samson asking God if he can die a bit early so as to take the Philistines with him.
      Torture Proverbs 20:30 ..” evil is driven out by bloody lashes and a scourging to the inmost being”.

    7. NAS Exhaustive Concordance

      Word Origin
      from porneuó
      NASB Translation
      fornication (4), fornications (2), immoralities (1), immorality (16), sexual immorality (1), unchastity (1).

      Technically, you’re right….but immoralities, unchastity and the root word of pornography are pretty close…they didn’t have magazines and dvd’s and the internet in those days….

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