U.S. must open its doors to resettle more war refugees

Categories: Editorial

Pope Francis reminds us that the Gospel calls us to assist the least and the abandoned

“Just because it isn’t happening here, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”

That’s the tag line of a video making the rounds on social media. The dramatization contrasts the daily life of a young girl you might find living in your neighborhood with what her life would be like in Syria, where violence, fear and trauma generated by four years of civil war has forced some 4 million men, women and children to flee the country in search of safety.

The Syrian refugees represent the largest forced migration since World War II, according to Catholic Relief Services. Syrian children and their families face a life marked by frequent bombings, other acts of violence, instability, power outages and shortages of food and clean water.

Migrants walk along rail tracks as they arrive to a collection point in the village of Roszke in Hungary after crossing the border from Serbia Sept. 6. (CNS photo/Marko Djurica, Reuters) See POPE-ANGELUS-REFUGEES Sept. 8, 2015.

Migrants walk along rail tracks as they arrive to a collection point in the village of Roszke in Hungary after crossing the border from Serbia Sept. 6. (CNS photo/Marko Djurica, Reuters)

Countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey — to which many refugees have fled — have borne the brunt of the crisis. But Europe is getting more attention, especially following the discovery of 71 dead refugees in the back of an abandoned truck in Austria. Then came photos circulated around the world of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian boy whose lifeless body washed up on a beach after the boat carrying his family capsized.

Refugees face enormous risks and, even before these latest tragedies, Catholic leaders were calling for a more generous response from the European Union to the plight of migrants, including many Middle East Christians expelled by militants from their ancestral homes. Pope Francis recently announced that the Vatican would take in two families, and he urged every parish and religious community in Europe to welcome in a refugee family.

But it’s not just Europe that needs to respond more generously to this humanitarian crisis. The United States must also do more.

A moral obligation

To date, the U.S. has been a leader in providing funds for humanitarian assistance and, for that, we can give thanks. But it has accepted only about 1,500 Syrian refugees for resettlement. This number must increase, and increase greatly. The financial assistance the U.S. provides is essential, but we also are a nation that has long viewed itself as a place of shelter and protection for victims of violence and persecution.

And, as Catholics, we are morally obligated to assist those fleeing war, hunger and disaster. Jesus reminds us that whatever we do for those in need, we do for him. Pope Francis reiterated this in light of the current refugee crisis when he said: “The Gospel calls us … to be near the least and the abandoned. To give them concrete hope, not just say ‘Hang in there, have patience!’”

The pope will likely remind us of this Gospel message when he visits the United States in a few weeks. Then, it will be up to us to take up the pope’s call to open our doors wider to innocent victims of war and violence.

What can we do right now? Prayer is a good place to start. Then, write to President Obama and your congressional representatives and urge them to pursue policies that will vet and allow more refugees from Syria and other countries to enter the country. Ask them also to support policies that will bring peace and stability to refugees’ homelands and security for all.

Also, consider making a contribution to Catholic Relief Services, which is providing support to hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees — mostly women and children — in the Middle East. It also is ramping up its response in Europe. Visit crs.org for more information about how to contribute.

For us living in the United States, it can be hard to comprehend the magnitude of the devastation and desperation facing refugee families, particularly children. But “just because it isn’t happening here, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.” We know the enormity of the problem. Now, it’s up to us to do something about it.