Migrants sit at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church temporary shelter in McAllen, Texas, June 27.
Bishops respond to refugee crisis
July 15th, 2014
By Catholic San Francisco
The Catholic bishops of California are coming to the aid of children of families fleeing violence in Central America, saying the crisis calls for a humanitarian response.
“In recent days, the people of our state have witnessed the arrival of hundreds of displaced people, mostly women and children, to various locations in Southern California,” the California Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, said in a statement July 9.
“The bishops of California wish to express our solidarity with these immigrant brothers and sisters who are coming to our state and to offer our prayer that God will deliver them to the safe environment they seek.”
The bishops said they also “recognize our responsibility as a church of compassion to come to their aid and help provide them with the practical and pastoral support they so need.”
These children and families have journeyed to the U.S., fleeing violence and destitution in Central America, but “Sadly, their experience in California has thus far been marked by hostility and near chaos. They are exhausted, afraid and clinging to hope,” the bishop said.
“The gravity of this situation transcends politics; it is truly a humanitarian crisis that calls all of us, Catholics and others of good will, to respond with compassion and with urgent action.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it has detained 47,017 unaccompanied children from October 2013 through May 2014, an increase of 92 percent from the same period a year earlier. A draft internal Homeland Security memo from May, reviewed by The Associated Press, said U.S. Border Patrol agents could arrest as many as 90,000 unaccompanied children crossing the Mexican border this year.
President Barack Obama called it a “humanitarian crisis.”
In California, Catholic agencies and other community-based groups have already begun to respond.
“Catholic Charities, working in collaboration with directly affected dioceses and other service organizations, is mobilizing to help these immigrants in centers of hospitality and assistance,” the bishops said. “Many individuals have contacted our parishes and social service agencies asking how they can help. This reflects the best of the American spirit.
“We are particularly concerned about the safety and security of the thousands of unaccompanied children that have crossed our border, without a parent or guardian and without family ties to the U.S. They desperately need our help.”
Some parishes in the Diocese of San Bernardino are serving as temporary way stations for women and children fleeing violence and drug cartels in Central America. For example, St. Joseph Parish in Fontana became the first to accept the refugees, when 25 mothers and their children began temporary stays at an unused convent, according to a post on the Catholic conference website. Parishioners, under the guidance of local Catholic Charities personnel, will help the refugees arrange travel to the homes of relatives or others in the United States until an immigration court can decide whether to grant them asylum or not.
Federal officials believe that groups of migrants will continue to arrive throughout the summer, the bishops said.
“The most affected dioceses will be asking parishioners and others for donations of time and money,” they said. “We ask you to respond to this call. In this critical moment, Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us of what we are called to do.”
In San Francisco, Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone called upon all people of the Bay Area to pray for a peaceful and just solution in solidarity with migrants, especially the children, according to a press release.
In Washington, a petition delivered July10 to members of Congress, President Barack Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson called for a humanitarian approach to the surge of migrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala that has overwhelmed the government’s capacity to handle them.
In Mexico City, the Vatican’s secretary of state pledged full support for addressing the issue of child migrants streaming out of Central America in search of safety and family reunification in the United States.
Pope Francis, meanwhile, described the situation a “humanitarian emergency” and called for the international community to act. Speaking at Mexico’s Foreign Relations Secretariat July 14, Cardinal Pietro Parolin repeated a recent call of bishops in five countries for Catholics and society at large to lend a helping hand for the young migrants.
To make a contribution, contact Catholic Charities of California, Inc./Children and Families Emergency Fund, 1107, 9th Street, Suite 707, Sacramento, CA 95818.
Catholic News Service contributed.
From July 18, 2014 issue of Catholic San Francisco.