Editorial — We must put the last first

Marnie McAllister

Calling on the “Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Way,” Pope Francis entreated the intercession of the Blessed Mother in his message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which will be observed in September.

He issued the message May 27, in time for World Refugee Day, which is celebrated around the globe today, June 20.

It’s unlikely that many refugees still in the throes of crisis are celebrating the day. But followers of Christ who enjoy the security of a familiar homeland can and ought to observe it.

Pope Francis writes in his message that making space for migrants and refugees isn’t just about these vulnerable populations. It’s about you and me and our relationship with God.

“The presence of migrants and refugees — and of vulnerable people in general — is an invitation to recover some of those essential dimensions of our Christian existence and our humanity that risk being overlooked in a prosperous society,” he writes.

Reluctance to welcome them, he explains, whether because of fear or doubt, “deprives me of an opportunity to encounter the Lord.”

Catholic Charities of Louisville is providing a local opportunity for encounter today at its annual World Refugee Day celebration at St. Ignatius Martyr Church in Okolona. The festivities include international food, cultural performances and activities for families.

But if festivals aren’t your cup of tea, there are other ways to turn your attention toward refugees and migrants.
Become educated about refugees. Fear and doubt flourish in the absence of good information.

As of 2017, there were a record number of people displaced around the globe — 25.4 million refugees and another 40 million people displaced within their home countries — according to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.

They are victims of persecution, war or violence seeking life wherever they can find it. As members of the human family, they have every right to do so. And as members of the Christian family, we have every responsibility to welcome, protect and assist them.

We don’t have to go far to help. Catholic Charities of Louisville has operated one of the most robust refugee resettlement programs in the nation for years. Staffers coordinate housing, employment, English classes and volunteer mentors to help refugee families begin life here on a solid foundation.

Mentors are needed to help refugees navigate life here. Volunteers are also needed to help with other programs. For instance, parents attending English classes need childcare.

People of faith can also exercise their rights as citizens to help refugees. In the last few years, the U.S. government has slashed the number of refugees allowed to be resettled in the U.S. and the U.S. bishops have called on the Trump administration to reverse this trend. This year refugee admissions are capped at 30,000. In contrast, the U.S. was slated to welcome 110,000 in 2017, until President Donald Trump reduced that number to 50,000. Catholics are urged to contact lawmakers and ask Congress to increase admissions to 95,000 in 2020.

For more information about this effort and to find form letters on the subject, visit the bishops’ Justice for Immigrants website, justiceforimmigrants.org.

Finally, the refugees of the world need our prayers. Our prayers can be both for the protection of refugees and for ourselves — that we respond to the needs of migrants and refugees with the heart of Christ.

In Pope Francis’ message on refugees and immigrants, he noted that Jesus asks his followers not to follow the world’s logic, which says, “Me first.”

“Instead, the true motto of the Christian is, ‘The last shall be first.’ … In the logic of the Gospel, the last come first, and we must put ourselves at their service.”

Mary, mother of refugees, pray for us.

Marnie McAllister
Editor

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