Pope Francis will be launching a global campaign in support of immigrants and refugees on September 27th. The Holy Father is inviting all of us to show our love and concern for the over 65 million men, women, and children in the world who have had to leave their homes to flee from war, persecution, and poverty. This two-year campaign is called “Share the Journey.” I encourage all our parishes and schools to join in this campaign sponsored by Caritas Internationalis (the Catholic Church’s global charitable network) and supported in the United States by the USCCB Migration and Refugee Services, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities USA. Information and materials about the campaign can be found on the websites www.sharejourney.org and www.loveyourneighbor.us.
The first thing we can all do in loving support of our brothers and sisters who are migrants and refugees is pray for them. This is the first request the refugees I have met here and overseas often make. So many are believers who trust in the Lord and His providence. Of course, action is also needed. Here in our diocese, through our Catholic Charities, we have resettled many refugees from Burma and other countries. Your support of Catholic Charities helps us to “welcome the stranger,” as Jesus Himself calls us to do.
As a member of the Board of Directors of Catholic Relief Services, I have learned a great deal about the CRS programs for refugees in various places throughout the world. Right now, CRS is providing food aid to over 500,000 refugees in South Sudan and helping to restore jobs, provide clean water, and promote conflict resolution there. Nearly a million South Sudanese now live in Uganda where CRS and its partners provide shelter support, construct water systems, and distribute hygiene supplies and tools.
Another example of the work of Catholic Relief Services on behalf of refugees is helping those displaced by the crises in Syria and Iraq. Working with Caritas and other local partners, CRS has helped more than 1.4 million Syrians across the Middle East and Europe. Besides food and shelter, CRS has been involved in providing children’s education, medical assistance, and legal help. In Iraq, CRS has been working closely with Caritas Iraq to support 250,000 people uprooted and devastated by the conflict. Many of those displaced in Iraq are our Christian brothers and sisters. Having helped those who had to flee their homes and villages, CRS is also now providing assistance to those who are returning, seeking to rebuild their lives. CRS and Caritas are helping them upgrade their war-damaged homes and rebuild their communities.
These are just a few examples of the work of CRS in assisting refugees in a few areas of the world. With over 65 million displaced people in the world, the need is great. Clearly, the root causes of this displacement need to be addressed: war and conflict; persecution; and poverty. Natural disasters are also a cause of displacement.
Pope Francis is calling us to build a greater culture of support for migrants and refugees around the world. He has brought attention to this crisis in his own outreach to migrants and refugees, including his visits to refugee camps. I have met refugee families from Central America who have come here not only to escape extreme poverty, but to escape gang violence, particularly to protect their children from the pressure of gangs. In some cases, people have received death threats if they do not participate in drug trafficking.
I hope that the Share the Journey campaign will be an opportunity to study and grow in knowledge of Catholic teaching on migration. First and foremost, the Church upholds respect for the life and dignity of every migrant and refugee as its core principle. While the Church recognizes the right of every sovereign nation to control its borders in order to promote the common good, it also recognizes the right of people to migrate in order to survive and to live in dignity and safety. Refugees should not be left to languish in camps or left homeless. The Church also recognizes the right of people not to migrate, the right to live in dignity in their own countries. Unfortunately, this latter right is trampled upon when there is war, persecution, or extreme poverty. Those who flee these situations should be protected by the global community.
I pray that we will have the compassion to walk in solidarity with our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters through our prayers, our advocacy, and our charitable help through Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services. May the Share the Journey campaign create a greater culture of support for migrants and refugees in communities around the world!
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