"We call upon all the Catholic faithful to join us as we unite our voices with all who speak in defense of human dignity."
Those words highlighted the opening paragraph of the message from Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo and Archbishop José H. Gomez, the president and vice president of United States Council of Catholic Bishops, respectively. Their joint message, issued on Jan. 30 in response to President Trump's executive order banning refugees from our shores, went on to remind us that those who are fleeing the violence and terror in their homelands are mainly families, "no different from yours or mine, seeking safety and security for their children."
The executive order blocked Syrian refugees from coming to the United States indefinitely and prohibited admitting any refugees from other nations in the world for 120 days. For 90 days, no citizen of seven majority-Muslim countries - even those who hold American green cards and have been living in the United States for years - will be admitted without a waiver.
In all of the activity following the executive order, much of the coverage in the news media focused on the political issues and the ensuing court battles over the language and legality of the order. That is appropriate for the secular press, and for citizens to debate. But we must remind ourselves that we are Catholic Christians first, and Americans second, and even though the legal and political issues are important, we are called to view this issue, as all issues, through the eyes of our Catholic faith.
And so our bishops in general, and many bishops in particular, voiced very strong opposition to this order on the grounds that it not only was an affront to our Catholic values, but it also violated the ideals that America strives to embody. Cardinal DiNardo and Archbishop Gomez put it this way: "Welcoming the stranger and those in flight is not one option among many in the Christian life. It is the very form of Christianity itself. Our actions must remind people of Jesus ... Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf."
We do, indeed, need to lift our voice on their behalf, and many Catholic parishes and organizations have contacted Congress and the president directly to oppose this ban of refugees. In addition to advocating for them, Catholic Relief Services also provides direct assistance to refugees overseas. Through their experience, CRS is in an important position to help people in the U.S. understand what refugees face and our responsibility to provide them aid and welcome. Sean Callahan, CEO of Catholic Relief Services, recently explained how our Catholic faith informs what the organization does. In an interview in U.S. Catholic magazine, he said,
"CRS was founded by the USCCB following the Holy Father's call: no family should be without a home, no refugee without a welcome, no person without dignity."
Buffalo has offered welcome and become home to a great number of refugees and they have brought a new spirit and renewal to the neighborhoods where they have settled. In order to celebrate their contribution and explore further ministry to them, there will be a Refugee Ministry Convocation Saturday, March 25 from 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora. In addition to a keynote by Bishop Richard J. Malone, the convocation will include presentations on ministering with and for refugees through charity and service, parish engagement, and social justice concerns.
Deacon Don Weigel is the associate public policy coordinator at Catholic Charities of Buffalo and is a Global Fellow with Catholic Relief Services.