(CNS photo/Jamal Nasrallah, EPA)
Syrian refugees wait at a clinic in 2016 at a camp near the Jordanian city of Mafraq.
Presidential travel ban prompts Catholic outrage
February 7th, 2017
By Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON – President Trump’s executive order temporarily closing the nation’s borders to refugees and people from seven predominantly Muslim countries prompted a wave of outcry, including a letter from more than 2,000 religious leaders representing the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and comments from Catholic organizations and bishops.
The religious leaders’ letter said the U.S. has an “urgent moral responsibility to receive refugees and asylum seekers who are in dire need of safety.” The correspondence called on elected officials to “be bold in choosing moral, just policies that provide refuge for vulnerable individuals seeking protection.”
The leaders also insisted that the U.S. refugee resettlement program remain open to all nationalities and religions that face persecution. They decried “derogatory language” about Middle Eastern refugees and Muslims in particular, adding that refugees “are an asset to this country,” serving as “powerful ambassadors of the American dream and our nation’s founding principles of equal opportunity, religious freedom and liberty and justice for all.”
In an interview with Catholic News Service Jan. 30 from Geneva, Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, secretary general of the International Catholic Migration Commission, recalled church teaching that holds “we should always welcome the stranger” just as “Jesus taught us by his example.”
Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore called for prayer as the country responds to the series of immigration- related memorandum signed by the president since Jan. 20. He specifically cited the need for prayers for the nation’s leaders and “the people who call this country their home, including our immigrant sisters and brothers.”
Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, expressed concern for the change in U.S. policy.
“I am especially worried about the innocent children and mothers who have fled for their lives without support and are now caught in this regrettable and terribly frightening situation,” she said in a statement. “While I certainly appreciate the importance of vetting to ensure the safety of our country, I also believe we must treat those who are most vulnerable with compassion and mercy and with hearts willing to be opened wide in the face of dire human need.”
Officials with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. said the memorandum erodes the U.S. commitment to protect refugees, weakens national security and harms the country’s standing in the international community.
“Refugees have enriched our society in countless ways. These newcomers seek protection and the promise of equality, opportunity and liberty that has made our country thrive. When we reject refugees, we negate the welcome that was given to so many of our ancestors,” Bishop Kevin W. Vann of Orange, California, chairman of CLINIC’s board of directors.
Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, writing on his blog Jan. 27, raised the 40-year-long concern of the U.S. bishops of the need for comprehensive immigration reform. He wrote that the status of 11 million people who are in the U.S. without documents must be addressed with compassion and with respect for the country’s laws.
“The Catholic voice in the immigration debate calls for reform based on reason, compassion and mercy for those fleeing violence and persecution,” the blog post said. “At a pastoral level, in our country and in the Archdiocese of Boston, the church must be a community which provides pastoral care, legal advice and social services to refugees and immigrants, as we have done in this archdiocese for more than one hundred years. We will continue this important work through our parishes, Catholic Charities and our Catholic schools.”
Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron of Detroit sent a letter Jan. 28 to the Imam’s Council of the Michigan Muslim Community Council to express his support for migrants and refugees of all faiths and countries of origin. The letter, he wrote, reaffirms his “solidarity” with the statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposing Trump’s executive memorandum.
“Please know that the Catholic community will continue to speak out and care for immigrants and refugees, no matter their religion or their country of origin,” the letter said.
Holy Cross Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, called on Trump to rescind his action because it “halts the work of valued students and colleagues who have already passed a rigorous, post-9/11 review process, are vouched for by the university and have contributed so much to our campuses.”
The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities Jan. 29 voiced “strong opposition” to the president’s immigration policy. “We stand in solidarity with other Catholic and higher education organizations that recognize the moral obligation of our country to assist migrants, particularly those who are fleeing any kind of persecution,” the organization said.
Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, issued a joint statement saying, “The bond between Christians and Muslims is founded on the unbreakable strength of charity and justice,” said “The church will not waiver in her defense of our sisters and brothers of all faiths who suffer at the hands of merciless persecutors,” they said.
“The refugees fleeing from ISIS (Islamic State) and other extremists are sacrificing all they have in the name of peace and freedom,” they said. “Often, they could be spared if only they surrendered to the violent vision of their tormentors. They stand firm in their faith.”
In Chicago, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said the presidential action “proved to be a dark moment in U.S. history.”
“The executive order to turn away refugees and to close our nation to those, particularly Muslims, fleeing violence, oppression and persecution is contrary to both Catholic and American values,” he said. “Have we not repeated the disastrous decisions of those in the past who turned away other people fleeing violence, leaving certain ethnicities and religions marginalized and excluded? We Catholics know that history well, for, like others, we have been on the other side of such decisions.
“Their design and implementation have been rushed, chaotic, cruel and oblivious to the realities that will produce enduring security for the United States,” Cardinal Cupich said. “They have left people holding valid visas and other proper documents detained in our airports, sent back to the places some were fleeing or not allowed to board planes headed here. Only at the 11th hour did a federal judge intervene to suspend this unjust action.”
The cardinal quoted Pope Francis’ remarks to Congress in 2015: “If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.”
He said Pope Francis “followed with a warning that should haunt us as we come to terms with the events of the weekend: ‘The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.’”
Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego said the executive action was “the introduction into law of campaign sloganeering rooted in xenophobia and religious prejudice. Its devastating consequences are already apparent for those suffering most in our world, for our standing among nations, and for the imperative of rebuilding unity within our country rather than tearing us further apart.”
“This week the Statue of Liberty lowered its torch in a presidential action which repudiates our national heritage and ignores the reality that Our Lord and the Holy Family were themselves Middle Eastern refugees fleeing government oppression. We cannot and will not stand silent,” he said in a statement Jan. 29.
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington said “the legal situation is still fluid and news reports are sometimes confusing.”
“The political debate, which is complex and emotionally highly charged, will continue, but we must do our best to remain focused on the pastoral and very real work we undertake every day for the vulnerable and most in need ... for the strangers at our doors,” he said.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, who is Catholic, commended the action, saying “our number one responsibility is to protect the homeland.”
“We are a compassionate nation, and I support the refugee resettlement program, but it’s time to re-evaluate and strengthen the visa vetting process. President Trump is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country,” Ryan said.
Philippe Nassif, who is executive director of In Defense of Christians, a Washington-based advocacy group supporting minority religious groups in Middle East countries, called for a quick end to the ban and said it would be better to focus on creating safe zones for Christians in the Middle East.
"It is important to understand," he said, "that Christians, Yezidis and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria have been victims of genocide perpetrated by ISIS," which, he noted, has been "formally recognized by the U.S. Congress."
"It is our belief at IDC that these genocide victims who seek asylum should be prioritized and given accommodation on the basis of this status. But that does not mean banning all refugees," Nassif said.
From February 9, 2017 issue of Catholic San Francisco.