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Immigrants and refugees: What the Church teaches

(U.S. Army Photo by SPC. Anthony Murray Jr

John Burger - published on 02/03/17

If a country is able to help, it should, though it has the right to be cautious

Amid the flurry of protest that greeted President Donald J. Trump’s January 27 executive order temporarily restricting immigration from certain nations, the president of the Catholic University of America cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church in saying that “we will operate the University by welcoming all people ‘in search of the security and the means of livelihood which they cannot find in their country of origin.’”

“We hope the newly elected administration will find a way to promote the common good of our citizens, including our national security, without departing from our nation’s great tradition of welcoming persons of good will who seek to make a better life here,” said John Garvey on Monday.

The Church’s teaching on migrants and refugees is based on the principles of solidarity and a nation’s right to protect its citizens, but demands more from nations that are able to assist those in need.

“The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin,” declares the Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph 2241. “Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.”

The Catechism goes on to say:

“Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.”

With conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Ukraine and other places over the past several years causing massive problems of refugees and displaced persons, Pope Francis’ pontificate has been marked by calls for a more welcoming attitude on the part of more prosperous nations and his own personal outreach, including visits to the Mediterranean islands of Lampedusa and Lesbos, flashpoints of the plights of refugees, and his orders for the Vatican to house refugee families. But he has also recognized the right of nations to deal prudently with the situation.

“It is inhumane to shut our doors and hearts to refugees,” he told journalists on the flight from Sweden to Rome last November, “but they also need to be prudent when it comes to working out how to settle them because it is not just about receiving a refugee, they also need to be integrated. If a country is able to integrate, then they should do what they can.”

The Catholic bishops of the United States have also addressed the issue many times. In their document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, they emphasize that solidarity is a global phenomenon. “We are one human family, whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences,” the bishops write. “We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. … Solidarity also includes the scriptural call to welcome the stranger among us—including immigrants seeking work—by ensuring that they have opportunities for a safe home, education for their children, and a decent life for their families and by ending the practice of separating families through deportation.”

Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship also states:

The Gospel mandate to “welcome the stranger” requires Catholics to care for and stand with newcomers, authorized and unauthorized, including unaccompanied immigrant children, refugees and asylum-seekers, those unnecessarily detained, and victims of human trafficking. Comprehensive reform is urgently necessary to fix a broken immigration system and should include a broad and fair legalization program with a path to citizenship; a work program with worker protections and just wages; family reunification policies; access to legal protections, which include due process procedures; refuge for those fleeing persecution and violence; and policies to address the root causes of migration. The right and responsibility of nations to control their borders and to maintain the rule of law should be recognized but pursued in a just and humane manner. The detention of immigrants should be used to protect public safety and not for purposes of deterrence or punishment; alternatives to detention, including community-based programs, should be emphasized.


The bishops have various resources on their website to find out more about both the Church’s teaching and its work with migrants and refugees. They also have FAQs about current immigration law, including this informative post on “why don’t they come here legally”:…/immig…/whydonttheycomeherelegally.cfm

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