I’m reminded of the wise words of a sister who helped give food and shelter to Muslims suffering during the Iraq War: “We don’t help them because they’re Catholic. We help them because we are.”
Church resettlement programs in the United States will continue to aid refugees who are fleeing violence and social ills despite calls that the country’s borders should be closed to anyone but Christians. The church’s response is focused on people in need of food, shelter and safety and not their particular faith, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops,told reporters Nov. 16 during a midday break at the bishops’ annual fall general assembly. “We at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities, we are always open to helping families who come into the United States in need of help,” he said at a news conference. “We have that tradition of doing it and we’re going to contribute.” Archbishop Kurtz explained that any assistance provided to refugees and immigrants is carried out under government contracts and that the vetting of newcomers will have been completed by government agencies long before church agencies become involved. “Our efforts are going to be to reach out to people and to serve them,” the archbishop said. “My hope would be that the church would continue to be able, within the law, to help those families.”
The Archdiocese of New Orleans issued a statement Monday, following news that Governor Bobby Jindel had issued an order barring refugee resettlement in Louisiana:
Catholic Charities Immigration and Refugee Services has a long history of resettling families fleeing violence in their home countries. Thirty years ago the late Archbishop Philip Hannan worked to resettle Vietnamese families here, and today the Vietnamese community is a valuable part of our diverse New Orleans culture. Today, we face new challenges as we answer the Gospel call to welcome the stranger and care for the vulnerable. Thousands of families: women, men and children are fleeing violence in the Middle East. Catholic Charities is a grantee agency that receives refugees from many parts of the world, including the Middle East, and we have recently resettled two families from the area. In light of recent events, we take this opportunity to not only reiterate our commitment to the Gospel but also our commitment to the safety of our own families and communities. It is important for the community to know that anyone resettled through our program is referred from the United States State Department after extensive security checks and background screenings. This is not a fast process but one that can take months and even years to complete. To date, our involvement with Syrian refugee families has been minimal, and we will prayerfully await direction and guidance from the State Department, Homeland Security and others as we work into the future. We are reminded of the words of our Holy Father Pope Francis as he addressed Congress during his visit to our country. He said,
“A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject. Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice.”In closing we ask that you keep the people of Paris, all those that died, those that were injured and those that mourn and now live in fear, in your prayers. We ask you to join us in prayer for peace in our own homes, in our own communities, and in our world. Let us pray too, for all those seeking a new life and the freedom we as Americans are blessed with everyday. Know that you remain in our prayers.
In Illinois, meantime, the head of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Rockford notes that it can take years for refugees to resettle in the United States:
Patrick Winn, head of Catholic Charities, said the organization is waiting for guidance from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops before making any decisions about how to proceed under the new directive. No Syrian refugees were scheduled to be placed in Rockford before Rauner’s directive.
“We certainly understand the concern because of the recent activities and the threats that have to be taken seriously,” he said.
The USCCB, one of nine national groups that receive refugees and send them to find new homes in the United States, will consider the governors’ statements and decide how to respond during the next couple of days, he said. No matter what happens, Winn said, coming to the United States as a refugee will continue to require an extensive, years-long approval period.
“There still stays in place the strong vetting process under the State Department, Homeland Security and the United Nations,” he said. “The people who are in the refugee pipeline from whatever country, including Syria — those are people who’ve been in that pipeline for at least four years … . We’re not talking about the group of people who’ve migrated to Europe as part of this mass exodus from Syria.”
UPDATE: Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence released his own statement Tuesday morning:
It would be wrong for our nation and our state to refuse to accept refugees simply because they are Syrian or Muslim. Obviously the background of all those crossing our borders should be carefully reviewed for reasons of security. Too often in the past, however, our nation has erroneously targeted individuals as dangerous simply because of their nationality or religion. In these turbulent times, it is important that prudence not be replaced by hysteria. As is our well-established practice, the Diocese of Providence stands ready to assist in a careful and thoughtful process of refugee resettlement.
Photo: Bob Roller/CNS