We are reminded with Pope Francis’ recent remarks during his trip to Greece and Cyprus that for more than eight years, he has argued against closed borders and closed hearts.
Tackling migration can be hard, logistically and emotionally.
Pope Francis expects us to look at the actual migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers as brothers and sisters. Communities or countries weighing whether they have the resources needed to “welcome, protect, promote and integrate” the newcomers must consider that fact.
Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski reminds us that the issue calls us to balance several principles of Catholic social teaching: the dignity of the person, the right of individuals to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families, the right of a nation to regulate its borders, and the need to balance justice and mercy in that regulation.
“We should remember that the people we’re talking about are not anonymous immigrants, but Christ Himself, who will say to us: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ or ‘I was a stranger and you gave me no welcome.’ Whatever policy we support, we should ask how the policy applies to Christ,” Archbishop Rozanski wrote in a column in St. Louis Catholic magazine.
Some of our newest brothers and sisters are arriving here from Afghanistan, after President Joe Biden announced that he would end U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan and withdrawal of U.S. troops there. Since the Taliban began taking over large swaths of the country, Biden ordered the return of several thousand U.S. troops to secure the airport in Kabul and conduct security measures to help with the evacuation of thousands of people who wanted to leave the country.
St. Louis is expected to receive 1,000 refugees in the next year from Afghanistan, according to a joint statement in August from the St. Louis mayor and St. Louis County executive. These Afghan citizens fought alongside the United States during the war as translators, clerks, contractors and community leaders.
Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Louis are stepping up to help where needed. Catholic Family Services, a federated agency of Catholic Charities of St. Louis, is helping families in Afghanistan as they leave the danger they face there and come to the United States. Others are helping through programs such as the Immigrant Home English Learning Program (ihelp), which connects volunteer teachers with adult immigrant and refugee learners in the community to develop English and life skills.
In a meeting Dec. 3 with migrants in Cyprus, Pope Francis said that we must resist becoming numb to the heart-wrenching stories of refugees in the media.
“How many desperate people have set out in difficult and precarious conditions but did not arrive?” he asked those who had crossed the Mediterranean and made it to Cyprus. “We can think about this sea, which has become a great cemetery. Looking at you, I see the suffering caused by your journey; I see all those people who were kidnapped, sold, exploited and who are still on the journey, we know not where.”
While governments have a right to say how many migrants they can take in, they do not have the right to condemn or exploit them.
“Migrants must be welcomed, accompanied, promoted and integrated,” Pope Francis said. “If a government cannot take in more than a certain number, it must enter into dialogue with other countries who can take care of the others, all of them.”