As Europe’s migrant crisis worsens, fuelled in part by Syria’s lengthy civil war, the head of the U.S. bishops’ conference has called on the country to welcome a larger number of refugees in a spirit of solidarity.
“I urge all Catholics in the United States and others of good will to express openness and welcome to these refugees, who are escaping desperate situations in order to survive,” Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville said in a Sept. 10 statement.
“Regardless of their religious affiliation or national origin, these refugees are all human persons—made in the image of God, bearing inherent dignity, and deserving our respect and care and protection by law from persecution.”
The archbishop’s comments come as European nations grapple with how to cope with the large number of migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, who have entered the continent – more than 432,000 so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Since the Syrian civil war broke out in March, 2011, more than 4 million of the country’s inhabitants have fled. The majority of them have gone to Turkey and Lebanon, but their ability to take in more refugees is constrained, and more and more of the displaced are seeking asylum in Europe and the United States.
Archbischop Kurtz reflected that “In recent days, we have seen reports about and pictures of thousands of refugees from the Middle East, primarily Syrians fleeing the conflict in their nation, fleeing into Europe in search of protection … Pope Francis, has asked Catholics in Europe to respond to the needs of the refugees streaming into Europe and, throughout his papacy, has consistently called upon the world to protect refugees and other persons on the move.”
Archbishop Kurtz said, “I express my solidarity with the Holy Father, the bishops of Syria, the Middle East, and Europe, and all people who have responded to this humanitarian crisis with charity and compassion. I also encourage the U.S. government to assist more robustly the nations of Europe and the Middle East in protecting and supporting these refugees and in helping to end this horrific conflict, so refugees may return home in safety.”
The same day that the archbishop wrote, president Barack Obama announced that over the next year, the United States will take in 10,000 Syrian refugees.
“The Catholic Church in the United States – with nearly 100 Catholic Charities agencies and hundreds of parishes assisting refugees to this country each year, and with Catholic Relief Services providing humanitarian aid to refugees in the Middle East and Europe – stands ready to help in this effort,” the archbishop said.
“In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph flee the terror of Herod. They are the archetype of every refugee family,” Archbishop Kurtz reflected. “Let us pray that the Holy Family watches over the thousands of refugee families in Europe and beyond at this time.”
Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas also wrote about the refugee crisis on Thursday, saying that the refugees fleeing Iraq, Syria, and other Middle Eastern nations “must leave their homes due to political instability, war, religious persecution, hunger, rape and murder … children, who should be living in a stable home environment, playing with their friends, getting an education, live in fear and wonder where they will sleep and find food.”
He asserted that the Islamic State is the “chief cause of this human suffering … People of all faiths, even Muslims, suffer under their tyranny.”
Bishop Farrell called Pope Francis’ call for each European parish to shelter a migrant family, and his decision that the Vatican’s two parishes would each take in a refugee family “concrete examples of our Blessed Lord’s Gospel message that when we clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless, feed the hungry and welcome the stranger, we do it for him and we will be called into the kingdom of heaven.”
“We simply cannot ignore the suffering of these brothers and sisters,” he said. “Evil has happened in history because good people did not stand up in time to stop it. Sometimes we must all raise our voices in solidarity.”
Bishop Farrell also urged prayer for refugees, and noted the work that Catholic Relief Services and Caritas have already done for them.
“In the past, parishes in our diocese showed true Christian spirit and welcomed families from South Vietnam after the war and more recently, those who fled Hurricane Katrina,” he concluded. “May we all show that same spirit in whatever way we can for those suffering today in the Middle East.”
“May we include a daily a petition to Our Lady, Help of Christians, that she take into her loving embrace our brothers and sisters undergoing such suffering today.”