If we turn our backs on refugees, the terrorists win

Categories: Editorial

Syrian refugees wait on the Syrian side of the border near Sanliurfa, Turkey, June 10. Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, says the United States should welcome Syrian refugees and work for peace. (CNS photo/Sedat/Suna, EPA) See ELIZONDO-REFUGEES Nov. 17, 2015.

Syrian refugees wait on the Syrian side of the border near Sanliurfa, Turkey, June 10. Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, says the United States should welcome Syrian refugees and work for peace. (CNS photo/Sedat/Suna, EPA)

Editorial
Joe Towalski

Helping war refugees is one way to practice the works of mercy the Holy Father has asked us to undertake

Two and a half months ago, the plight of international refugees received renewed attention after media outlets around the world published photos of Aylan Kurdit, the 3-year-old boy from Syria who drowned with other family members when they fell from a raft trying to reach Greece.

The photos showing little Aylan lying face down on the beach shocked our consciences and came to represent the human face of a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since World War II. Other nations pledged to do more to help.

Sadly, the terrorist attacks in Paris put Syrian refugees in the spotlight again when it was reported that one of the attackers arrived in Europe posing as a refugee from the Syrian war. There is no way to condemn strongly enough what happened in France. In the aftermath, however, some European politicians have called for a halt to further refugee arrivals. In the United States, more than two dozen governors have said they are refusing to take in Syrian refugees because they have security and safety concerns.

While their fears are understandable, we cannot turn our backs on the millions of individuals and families — Christian and non-Christian — who are caught in the cross-hairs of Syria’s war through no fault of their own. They are not the cause of what happened in Paris and should not be blamed for it. They are trying to escape violence and devastation that have long been a part of daily life. Faced with the same situation, many of us would do the same. We need to do more to help them, not less.

As Catholics, we are called to reach out in love to “welcome the stranger,” protecting their human dignity and providing them with hope in what surely seems to many refugees as a hopeless situation. And, as the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis approaches, helping war refugees is one way to practice the works of mercy the Holy Father has asked us to undertake.

What can we do?

So how can we respond in ways that help those most in need while not putting more innocent lives at risk? Clearly, it’s a complex issue that needs careful examination.

Prayer is always the best place to start — that God would protect all refugees fleeing violence and persecution.

But we also must step up humanitarian efforts by providing financial support to organizations such as Catholic Relief Services, which is assisting hundreds of thousands of refugees in Europe, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and other countries where there has been a large influx. With winter approaching, the needs will undoubtedly increase.

The Knights of Columbus, which always helps good causes, recently donated $500,000 to CRS to support the Jordanian Catholic Church’s schooling of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, giving them a safe place to learn. Initiatives like this help to build hopeful futures for some of the most vulnerable refugees: children.

There also needs to be a coordinated, effective strategy for resettling refugees from Syria and other war-torn areas in neighboring countries of the region, in Europe and in other prosperous nations, including the United States. This does not have to put citizens’ safety at risk.

As Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, recently noted: “Refugees to this country must pass security checks and multiple interviews before entering the United States. … It can take up to two years for a refugee to pass through the whole vetting process. We can look at strengthening the already stringent screening program, but we should continue to welcome those in desperate need.”

And, finally, we Catholics must educate ourselves about what’s happening in the region, take up our civic responsibilities and press our elected officials and candidates for office to support emergency aid as well as policies that will help end conflicts in Syria and other parts of the Middle East and bring long-term peace to the region, opening the possibility for many who fled to return and start their lives again. While this is the ideal way to end the crisis, there is much hard work ahead to accomplish the goal.

In the meantime, however, if we cave in to fear, if we turn our backs on refugees, if we’re not up to the challenge to be the face of Christ to those who are suffering even when it’s difficult for us, then the terrorists have gained another victory. As people of faith, we cannot let it happen