In September Pope Francis, addressing the joint sessions of Congress in the United States, described how “our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War.”
These words present a challenge to all of us especially in the wake of the recent bombings in Paris, France and the hostage-taking in Mali. The ultimate question is if and how we will reevaluate our policies on immigration during these troubling and violent times as we face many difficult decisions.
The Holy Father’s first reaction to the terrorism was that he condemned the Paris attacks, calling them “blasphemy” since the attackers used the name of God to justify violence and hatred. He explicitly expressed his sorrow along with offering condolences to the victims and their families. His reaction was strong: “Such barbarity leaves us shocked and we wonder how the human heart can conceive and carry out such horrible events, which have shaken not only France, but the whole world.”
The pope also framed the increase in violence around the globe in terms of a “third world war” being waged piecemeal through crimes, massacres, religious persecution and the destruction of cultural sites.
However, the pontiff’s response to the refugee problem is that all of us as good Christians should be compassionate since we need to “view how refugees are persons, seeing their faces, listening to their stories, responding as best we can to their situation.”
He urges us to react in a way that is “humane, just and fraternal,” avoiding the temptation to discard whatever or whoever proves troublesome. Not all Syrian refugees are terrorists and not all Mexicans are criminals.
As a nation built on immigrants we, as Americans, are challenged to meet both the human and spiritual needs of the refugees knocking at our doors. That is, we should be concerned not only about their immediate needs for food and shelter, but also their needs to be respected, listened to and comforted since they are children of God, each with his own inherent dignity.
But due to a Syrian passport found at the scene of the attacks authorities believe that at least one of the terrorists had passed through Greece, an entry point for many thousands of refugees into Europe. Recently Honduran officials also arrested five Syrians intending to enter the United States with stolen Greek passports. These developments have occurred after escalating security concerns that terrorists are crossing to Europe and perhaps the United States mixed in with innocent refugees.
Our moral right as Catholics is to accompany, serve and defend the rights of innocent refugees. I underscore the word “innocent.” A more stringent investigative process, however, might be required to identify and weed out suspected terrorists.
The United States as a Christian nation should not reject all refugees. In these last few days some federal and state officials have called for an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. These refugees are vulnerable families, women and children who are fleeing for their lives.
During his address to Congress, the pope offered a solution to the refugee crisis and that is to follow the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” His mention of the Golden Rule earned him a standing ovation in Congress.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also has called on the people of the United States to allow Syrians to resettle in the United States along with refugees from other countries. The United States is a safe haven for those fleeing poverty, violence and war.
Education is the key to immigration. With learning and training, refugees grow in self-confidence and realize their potential in working and living in a respectful and loving community. For children forced to emigrate, schools and churches are places of freedom where children learn to become compassionate and merciful to others.
As Christ said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7). As you make your decision on accepting refugees or not, think of the Holy Family — Our Lady, St. Joseph and the child Jesus — who fled to Egypt to escape violence and to find refuge among strangers.
On Dec. 8, Pope Francis will inaugurate the “Year of Mercy.” So be compassionate and merciful to God’s children as God is with all of us.
Father Gus Puleo is pastor of St. Patrick Parish, Norristown.