By Mark Pattison
WASHINGTON — The observance of U.N. Human Rights Day Dec. 10 brought to the fore past statements from two Catholic groups, pointing out that needs identified in the past have yet to be addressed.
The Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace highlighted the ongoing world refugee crisis, while Pax Christi USA decried a “marketplace mentality” that overshadows the religious nature of Advent and Christmas.
The sisters brought back a statement from 2016, “Welcome Immigrants and Refugees,” to press nations to take constructive action to tackle the crisis, prefacing it with a Dec. 10 message.
“Actions like the passage of the Nationality and Borders Bill (in England) as well as the U.S. government’s continued use of Title 42 and the so-called Migrant Protection Protocols violate both the spirit and the letter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we celebrate today,” the sisters said.
Title 42 is a provision of U.S. health policy enacted during the Trump administration — and kept in place by the Biden administration — that turns away certain immigrants at the border as part of public health measures to contain the coronavirus.
The Migrant Protection Protocols — also known as “Remain in Mexico” or MPP — require those seeking asylum in the United States at the U.S.-Mexico border to wait in Mexico for their cases to be adjudicated by an immigration judge.
President Joe Biden had ended the Trump era protocols shortly after he was inaugurated but the courts, including the Supreme Court, said they administration had gone about ending them the wrong way and had to resume the policy.
After securing the cooperation of the government of Mexico, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security restored the program at one border location Dec. 6, with more sites to follow.
Such policies, the sisters said, are “cruel and put migrants at risk of physical and mental injury and or death as they are denied the basic rights agreed to be offered by a humane community of nations.”
“The lies of leaders who call their nations ‘compassionate’ while watching asylum-seekers drown off the British coast or be exploited by gangs on the Mexican side of the U.S. border must be called out,” the sisters added.
“We are reminded by the U.N. that we are ‘All Human, All Equal,'” the slogan for this year’s Human Rights Day, they noted. “As Catholics we believe that is so because we are all made in the image and likeness of our creator. The world community has acknowledged that again and again and many nations are striving to live out that reality. The elected leaders of some nations, sadly, do not act on that truth.”
“At our founding,” the sisters said in the 2016 statement, “we were a congregation of immigrants, serving immigrants, knowing their pain and suffering.”
“Earth is a gift of our Creator to be shared by all of earth’s families, not just by those who claim to own a piece of it. Nations have the right to control immigration and an obligation to provide safety for citizens, but they do not have the right to close borders to all refugees and asylum-seekers who are in need,” the sisters said then.
“Addressing the present crisis is not enough. To find a truly peaceful resolution we must repent of our own actions and call attention to national policies that are the root causes of forced migration,” they added.
“Among these policies are: the creation of great divergence of wealth among and within nations, our acceptance of war and sales of weapons to nations already in turmoil, our excessive dependence on fossil fuels and the resultant displacement forced by rising seas.”
The sisters’ 2016 statement urged governments to follow international law and provide safe haven for refugees and asylum-seekers with all rights guaranteed in the U.N. Convention and Protocol on Refugees, specifically asking the U.S. and U.K. governments to allow citizens willing to serve refugees the opportunity to offer hospitality as an expression of their faith, as well as “an immediate end to all rhetoric that instills fear, creates division or incites violence.”
Pax Christi went even further back — to 2000 — for a reflection by Tom Cordaro, who served as president of its national council. The reflection took into account the Scripture readings for Dec. 10.
“Jesus offers us a reflection on our ‘marketplace mentality,’ never more prevalent than at Christmas with our buying and selling, our rejoicing and our privilege, our wealth and our grotesque consumerism,” Cordaro said.
“‘Wisdom is vindicated by her works,’ says Jesus. Our vindication at Christmas could be the wisdom of our refusal to engage in such obscenities, to offer our children alternatives to this excess gift-giving,” he added.
“Do we hearken to the commandments of the Holy One at Christmas?” Cordaro asked. “Or do we follow the cultural norms of greed, sitting like children in the marketplace of consumerism?”