Don't close doors to refugees, church leaders say after Mideast trip

IMAGE: CNS photo/Sam Tarling, CRS

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Given the ongoing crises in the
Middle East, North American, European and other Western nations will need to be
more generous in coming to the aid of refugees and displaced peoples, said two
prominent church leaders.

The answer is continued assistance, “not to close
the gates of the countries where people are knocking for survival,” said Archbishop
Silvano M. Tomasi, former Vatican representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, retired archbishop of Los Angeles,
told journalists that nations like Lebanon and Jordan have been “very
heroic” in accommodating large numbers of refugees, “as compared to many
other countries, especially the United States, which I think is gravely at
fault here.”

The archbishop and cardinal spoke about a 10-day visit to
Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Greece to visit refugees and church-based
organizations offering aid and assistance. The March 9 media event was hosted
by the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral
Human Development.

“We saw humanity at its worst and humanity at its
best on this journey,” Cardinal Mahony said. The worst was seeing situations
“where men could so mistreat and maltreat other men, women and

“On the other side, in the midst of all this
suffering and pain, we found the best in the people,” who were involved in
caring and bringing relief and aid to others, such as members of Catholic
charities, international volunteers and nongovernmental organizations. “It
was very inspiring.”

Both Archbishop Tomasi and Cardinal Mahony noted how the
current populist sentiments in parts of Europe and the United States were negatively
affecting the health, lives and dignity of millions of people needing accommodation
and assistance.

“I can understand that with the political
development of populist movements and xenophobic groups that politicians are
concerned about limiting the massive arrival of people in the (European) Union,”
Archbishop Tomasi said. However, he added, the consequence is people are
trapped where they are, “they cannot go back and they cannot go forward,”
and families often are broken up because they find themselves stuck in
different countries.

A country’s right to regulate how many people come to
them for resettlement needs to be respected, he said, but human rights and
legal commitments to international conventions must also be respected, he said.

Making the problem worse, Cardinal Mahony said, was an
approach taken during President Donald Trump’s election campaign, which
“posed people who are different from you, (as) a threat to you, a threat
to your jobs” and “they’re going to harm you.”

“This generalization of people who are different as
a threat just compounds the issue and the problem,” he said.

The best way to handle resettlement, he added, is for the
incoming family to have local families and communities, like a parish, reach
out and help integrate them into the local culture.

While the world struggles to find a solution to the refugee
crisis, “we need to support the programs that are making their lives less
miserable,” such as those run by Catholic Relief Services and Jesuit
Refugee Service, Archbishop Tomasi said.

“Compassion fatigue should have no room at this
moment,” as millions of people are still in need, he said.


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