Editorial — Will you welcome refugees?

Marnie McAllister

Marnie McAllister

A four-column headline in the New York Times’ Sunday opinion section posed the question, “Would you hide a Jew from the Nazis?”

Would you? Would you have the courage to risk your own safety to preserve someone else’s?

That’s a tough one. And if we’re honest with ourselves, the immediate “of course,” most likely slips into uncertainty. Many of us would like to think we would hide Anne Frank and her family from the great Nazi enemy. But how many of us are doing our best to ensure today’s refugees find safe haven? 

The world is currently facing the largest displacement of people since World War II. The United Nations Refugee Agency estimates there are about 65.3 million displaced people — including migrants searching for opportunity and refugees fleeing for their lives. All of them need someplace to go.

President Barack Obama, other world leaders and the Vatican secretary of state gathered in New York for the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 19 to discuss the crisis. According to the New York Times, it was the U.N.’s first such meeting on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants. In the end, the summit participants issued a declaration pledging to take a more coordinated and humane approach to the crisis.

Obama noted during an address to the U.N. Sept. 20, his last as president of the U.S., that the nation has committed to accepting more refugees next year, up to 110,000. This year, the U.S. agreed to accept 85,000.

Here in the Archdiocese of Louisville, Catholic Charities has resettled about 800 refugees in the last year. They come primarily from Cuba, Congo, Somalia, Iraq and Syria, said Darko Mihaylovich, the director of programs for the agency and a former refugee.

The New York Times column, written by columnist Nicholas Kristof, compares today’s global refugee crisis to that of the Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. Two hauntingly similar photos illustrate his point, depicting refugees trudging toward the camera lugging bags and children. One photo is in black and white and was taken of families fleeing Paris in 1940 before the German invasion. The other, in full color, shows refugees in Serbia last year heading to the Hungarian border.

Kristof asserts, “As today’s leaders gather for their summit sessions, they should remember that history eventually sides with those who help refugees, not with those who vilify them.”

The same could be said of the Gospel. Pope Francis has repeatedly reminded Christ’s followers of their responsibility to help displaced people. And on Tuesday, at an interreligious meeting in Assisi, the pope called on religious people of all faiths to get their hands dirty helping other people.

Catholic News Service reported that in his speech, Pope Francis called on believers of every faith “to confront the great sickness of our time: indifference.”

“It is a virus that paralyzes, rendering us lethargic and insensitive, a disease that eats away at the very heart of religious fervor, giving rise to a new and deeply sad paganism: the paganism of indifference,” he said.

He called on believers to be the voice for those who are suffering and have gone unheard, according to the news service.

“I am thinking of the families, whose lives have been shattered; of the children who have known only violence in their lives; of the elderly, forced to leave their homeland. All of them have a great thirst for peace,” he said. “We do not want these tragedies to be forgotten.”

Peace can be accomplished through concrete actions of assistance, he said, not with “the ‘virtual’ approach of one who judges everything and everyone using a computer keyboard, without opening his eyes to the needs of his brothers and sisters, and dirtying his hands for those in need.”

When we wonder whether or not we would help a persecuted person, Pope Francis’ words can guide us. Instead of allowing that “virtual approach” to cement our uncertainty into lethargy, we can take action.

Fortunately, there’s an easy way to take action right here at home. It’s not heroic, but it’s a start: Offer your support to Catholic Charities of Louisville.

The agency, which is supported in part by donations to the Catholic Services Appeal, needs funding, in-kind donations to set up apartments for newly arriving-refugees and volunteers to serve as mentors to new families.

MARNIE McALLISTER
Record Editor

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