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Saving lives must be first concern of immigration policy, pope says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The defense of the life, dignity and human rights of migrants and refugees must come before any other question when enacting migration policies, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, in April 2016. In an interview with an Italian government journal, the pope said his visit to Lesbos and his 2013 visit to Lampedusa, Italy, were meant to show that all religions want "to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land." (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, in April 2016. In an interview with an Italian government journal, the pope said his visit to Lesbos and his 2013 visit to Lampedusa, Italy, were meant to show that all religions want “to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land.” (CNS/Paul Haring)

“The defense of human beings knows no limits,” the pope said in an interview with the journal of the Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration of the Italian Ministry of the Interior.

“Those in power,” he said, “must be both far-sighted and coherent in watchful respect for fundamental human rights, as well as in trying to end the causes which force civilians to flee.”

Of course, he said, a safe and humane approach to handling the current global migration crisis requires international cooperation and policies that “respect both those who welcome and those who are welcomed.”

Newcomers must respect the laws of their host countries and be assisted in integrating into the life of their new communities, he said in the interview published April 7. And members of the receiving community must be educated to understand the real causes of migration and the desperate situations of those who feel forced to flee their homes.

The news media play a big role, Pope Francis said. They should explain the human rights violations, violence, poverty and catastrophes that lead so many people to flee.

But, especially, he said, the media must report responsibly and not simply “indulge in negative stereotypes when talking about migrants and refugees.”

“Just think of the unfair terms often used to describe migrants and refugees,” the pope said. “How often do we hear people talk of ‘illegals’ as a synonym for migrants? This is unfair. It is based on a false premise, and it pushes public opinion toward negative judgments.”

Asked about his 2016 trip to refugee camps in Lesbos, Greece, with leaders of the Orthodox Church, Pope Francis said it was a sign of “fraternal responsibility.”

“We are all united in wanting to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land,” the pope said. “There is no difference of creed that can outweigh this wish, in fact, quite the contrary.”

Pope Francis said he wished the political leaders of every nation would show the same kind of joint concern for “the cries of the many innocents who ask only for a chance to save their own lives.”

As for anti-immigrant feelings and fears among some Europeans, the pope urged people to remember what Europe was like after World War II.

Millions of Europeans immigrated to South America or the United States, he said. “It was not an easy experience for them, either. They had the burden of being seen as foreigners, arriving from afar with no knowledge of the local language.

“The process of integration wasn’t easy, but for the most part it ended in success,” Pope Francis said.

Countries that have grown and thrived over the centuries by accepting and integrating newcomers cannot forget that experience or pretend it will not be repeated today, he said.

For example, “Europeans contributed greatly to the growth of trans-Atlantic societies,” those in North and South America. “This is always the case: Any exchange of culture and knowledge is a source of wealth and should be valued as such.”

Members of the Catholic Church have an even greater obligation to recognize the value of welcoming newcomers, Pope Francis said. “We can see the peaceful integration of people from other cultures as a kind of reflection of its Catholicism. A unity which accepts ethnic or cultural diversity constitutes a dimension of church life, which in the spirit of Pentecost is open to all. open to embracing everyone.”

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Fears growing in Hispanic migrant community

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For The Dialog

PRINCESS ANNE, Md. – The woman calmly talked with Sister Eileen Eager at Catholic Charities’ Seton Center, requesting help to update her children’s passports.

It was a simple request, typical of many forms she and her fellow Sister of Charity, Cecilia McManus, help the Spanish-speaking population of Somerset County fill out. But the simplicity belied a deep-set fear in the Hispanic community here of late. Read more »

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Church leaders seek to calm fears for migrants worried about Trump

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — At a Nov. 14 news conference in Baltimore, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez talked about the reaction, following the recent outcome of the U.S. presidential election, in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles — home to a large number of immigrants, including many Latinos but also immigrants from places such as the Philippines, China, Korea and Vietnam.

An immigrant mother and daughter are seen in Los Angeles June 23. (CNS photo/Eugene Garcia, EPA)

An immigrant mother and daughter are seen in Los Angeles June 23. (CNS photo/Eugene Garcia, EPA)

“I think the reaction was, especially for the ones that have issues of immigration, of fear,” said the Los Angeles archbishop, about the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, echoing what some church leaders who work with immigrant communities said during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“They were nervous, they don’t know what to make of it, especially many of them who have been here for a long time,” he said. “They have families. So, it is a challenge for them, for the family just even to think that the parents, or one of the parents, are going to be deported.”

President-elect Trump campaigned by saying he would build a wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, enact a “massive deportation force,” and end birthright citizenship, which grants citizenship to anyone born in the U.S., no matter the immigration status of the parents.

Trump’s comments during the campaign are exactly what makes those like Nancy Reyes, a senior at Jesuit-run Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, worry and fear an upcoming Trump presidency. The weekend after the election, Reyes was in a room full of youths expressing their anxieties and worries at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, a Catholic social justice conference held in Crystal City, Virginia, where they discussed the president-elect and how his immigration views or future policies could affect them.

Her mother, Reyes said, is “going through the legal process” of obtaining legal status in the U.S. She entered the country without legal documentation when she was five months pregnant with Reyes.

“As of Tuesday (Election Day), the little bit of hope we had went downhill,” said Reyes, adding that “come January, I don’t know if my mom is going to be here or not.”

Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network, the group that organizes the social justice conference, which includes Jesuit institutions and youth, said he and others at Jesuit schools have been hearing the concerns, which for some of the students includes their legal status provided by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA. In 2012, President Barack Obama created the policy by executive action, which allows certain undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children to have a work permit and be exempt from deportation.

“We’re concerned about DACA recipients because the government knows everything about them,” including where they live and about their relatives, said Kerr.

Some worry that when Trump becomes president, he could overturn DACA, and there are questions about the future of those 750,000 who signed up and whether they could be deported. As a candidate, Trump opposed DACA and also another policy known as DAPA, or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents. DAPA grants a work permit and allows some non-U.S. citizens to remain in the country temporarily.

Until there’s more information of what a Trump administration will do regarding immigration, the Ignatian Solidarity Network is trying to keep people informed about potential policies, trying to educate people that their involvement in influencing policy does not end at the voting booth and that they need to maintain relationships with their elected officials year-round, as well as urging others to express solidarity with affected communities, Kerr said.

In Texas, anxiety about a what a new administration will or won’t do, or may do, also is in the air, said Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, in an interview with Catholic News Service in Baltimore, where he was attending the bishops’ meeting. He said he has tried to reassure those who are worried that “we, as a church … we’re paying attention and we’ll be with you. We’ll walk with you as an immigrant community and defend your rights.”

But it’s too early to tell what will happen, Bishop Flores said. Some are wondering what the church will do and can do. Some asked Archbishop Gomez in the general meeting in Baltimore whether the Los Angeles Archdiocese would open sanctuary churches.

“That’s a hypothetical question,” Archbishop Gomez answered. “I don’t know what is going to happen in the future.”

In Texas, especially near the border, dealing with the difficulties that may arise for immigrants has long been part of daily life. Where some see despair, others have seen spiritual opportunity, said Bishop Flores. Catholics from the Brownsville, McAllen, Pharr and other areas, along with people from nearby cities and of various faiths, have been caring for recent arrivals who come through their cities and towns.

Some parishioners, noticing the influx of families and of mothers with young children fleeing violence from Central America, began organizing ways to transport them to their churches, feeding them, and giving provisions for those who had just finished their journeys crossing the border, said Bishop Flores.

“They helped them with food, with clothing, including little tennis shoes for the children, formula for babies,” who have made the dangerous trek north, he said. Then they give them a backpack with supplies for those who set out for other parts of the country seeking relatives to take them in.

“Sometimes, I get a call to the bishop’s office, ‘Why are you helping those illegals?’” said Bishop Flores, but those calls are few. “People have responded in a beautiful way.”

Some of those who have been helping include those who are poor, those who may not have a stable immigration situation to remain in the country themselves, he said.

“This is part of our culture. We’re not scared of the human reality,” said Bishop Flores.

Though church leaders have in the last few days shouted their support for immigrants and refugees, this could be a spiritual opportunity for other church members as well, Bishop Flores said.

“In this sense, this moment in history presents the church in the United States an opportunity to intensify personal conversion,” he said.

Church leaders opposed the record number of deportations under the Obama administration: 2.4 million since 2009, when he took office.

“People have already suffered the separation of families,” said Bishop Flores. “From the point of view of the church, the social fabric of society depends on the family, and when you tear apart children from their parents … they are vulnerable.”

Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, who is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Brownsville Diocese and works near the border, said even though there’s anxiety and uncertainty, it’s important to try to lift the spirits of others.

“It’s sad,” she said at the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice. “But my hope never dies.”

She said she hopes as president, Trump will take into account “that these are not bad people, they’re not criminals. These are a people who are hurting.” Her concerns extend also to the situation of those seeking refuge in the U.S. from other parts of world, she said.

“I believe very much in the human person, that (he or she) can be touched and change,” she said. “We have to use our voice but not (to fight)” but help others see the humanity of the vulnerable, to see them as humans and not as burdens.

 

Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

 

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Pope Francis’ visit to Greece comes amid fear, uncertainty for refugees

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ trip to Lesbos, Greece, April 16 comes at a frightening and critical time for tens of thousands of refugees and migrants waiting and wondering where they will end up, said members of Catholic aid agencies.

Young refugees wait in line for tea at a makeshift camp April 11 at the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni, Greece. Pope Francis will travel to Lesbos, Greece, April 16. (CNS photo/Stoyan Nenov, Reuters) S

Young refugees wait in line for tea at a makeshift camp April 11 at the Greek-Macedonian border near the village of Idomeni, Greece. Pope Francis will travel to Lesbos, Greece, April 16. (CNS photo/Stoyan Nenov, Reuters) S

Maristella Tsamatropoulou, spokeswoman for Caritas Hellas, the Catholic charity in Greece, said when rumors started swirling that Pope Francis would join Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople on a visit to refugees, “we believed it immediately because our pope is spontaneous; he’s a force of nature.”

Last October, when several thousand refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries were passing through Greece on their way to other parts of Europe, Caritas Hellas had five paid employees. Now the number of refugees and migrants has grown and the borders with other European countries have been closed to them. In response, the paid staff at the Caritas central office in Athens has grown to 15 people and there are 40 other employees around the country, including in Lesbos.

Among the migrants and refugees, Tsamatropoulou said, “the terror is immense.” The northern border with Macedonia closed in February, and the European Union and Turkey signed an agreement to forcibly return to Turkey those not applying for asylum in Greece. The agreement went into effect March 20.

What was a transit center in Idomeni, on the border with Macedonia, has become a muddy encampment of more than 11,000 people hoping and praying the border will open. The Caritas spokeswoman said the Greek government keeps saying it will close the Idomeni camp, “and we fear it won’t be peaceful.”

Already impatient refugees, stuck on a field never meant to serve as a camp, occasionally try to force guards on both sides to let them pass into Macedonia. They are pushed back, including by the use of water cannons or tear gas.

Tsamatropoulou said staff from Caritas and the other aid agencies continue trying to convince the people at Idomeni to go to one of the smaller, organized refugee centers set up by the Greek government. Conditions are better there, she said; at least there are hot meals. But the migrants and refugees at Idomeni can see the border and are certain that it will open eventually. They want to be the first ones across.

The scene in Lesbos had changed dramatically as well, she said. Prior to March 20, when the Turkey-EU agreement went into effect, the migrants and refugees were more or less free to come and go. Now, many of them are in what amounts to detention centers.

Jesuit Refugee Service, which also operates in Lesbos and other parts of Greece, issued a statement April 12 saying Pope Francis’ visit “could not come at a more critical time.” JRS believes the Turkey-EU agreement “violates the international law and the principle of ‘non-refoulement’ or not pushing back people in need of protection.”

More than 150,000 refugees and migrants have arrived to Greece so far in 2016, JRS said, and more than half of them reached the country by arriving in Lesbos. In addition, “the U.N. refugee agency has announced more than 22,000 unaccompanied minors are stuck in Greece and facing an uncertain future of possible violence and exploitation,” the statement added.

“During a time when pushbacks are seemingly the solution being put forward by the EU, we hope the pope’s visit is not just a symbol of hope for refugees, but a concrete push for the Greek government and other European states to actualize those hopes,” said Jesuit Father Thomas H. Smolich, JRS international director.

 

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Pope, Roman Curia heads discuss refugees, dialogue with Muslims

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The difficulties facing migrants coming into Europe and the continuing dialogues with Muslims were among the topics discussed during Pope Francis’ meeting with the heads of the Roman Curia offices, the Vatican spokesman said.

Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the Nov.16 meeting did not deal with the pope’s reform of the Curia or with further changes to the existing offices. The pope had announced Oct. 22 the establishment of a new office for laity, family and life, which combines the responsibilities of two pontifical councils.

“It is one of the normal dicastery meetings that are scheduled every six months,” Father Lombardi said.

Noting that the themes of the meeting were scheduled in advance, Father Lombardi told journalists that the plight of migrants and the problems facing refugees and the countries that receive them were discussed. The Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, headed by Cardinal Antonio Maria Veglio, wanted to update the pope and members of the Curia on its work in aiding thousands of migrants and refugees coming into Europe.

Father Lombardi said the meeting also focused on the continuing dialogue with Muslims, an area of discussion that was requested by Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

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Synod report highlights pastoral care of society’s marginalized

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — While they did not grab headlines, the elderly and people with disabilities, openness to life and the plight of migrants and refugees were also on the agenda of the Synod of Bishops on the family.

A boy along with other visually impaired people walk during a rally to mark International White Cane Day in Yangon, Myanmar, Oct. 15. While they did not grab headlines, the topics of elderly and people with disabilities, openness to life and the plight of migrants and refugees were also on the agenda of the Synod of Bishops on the family. (CNS photo/Lynn Bo Bo, EPA)

A boy along with other visually impaired people walk during a rally to mark International White Cane Day in Yangon, Myanmar, Oct. 15. While they did not grab headlines, the topics of elderly and people with disabilities, openness to life and the plight of migrants and refugees were also on the agenda of the Synod of Bishops on the family. (CNS photo/Lynn Bo Bo, EPA)

The synod’s final report, which was approved Oct. 24, addressed the pastoral needs of those who are often cast aside to the margins of society, those who are often neglected and abandoned in a world that places profit over value.

Affirming the church’s teaching on the “sacred and inviolable character of human life,” the synod members not only denounced the tragedy of abortion, they also expressed their closeness to young mothers, abandoned children and those suffering the consequences of abortion.

The report also denounced euthanasia, saying that society is called to “care for the elderly, protect people with disabilities, assist the terminally ill, comfort the dying, and firmly reject the death penalty.”

One of the most important tasks of Christian families, the report said, is to “safeguard the bond between generations for the transmission of the faith.”

While birth rates are dwindling in Western countries, the report noted, the number of elderly people continue to rise and they are often “perceived as a burden” in increasingly industrialized societies. The synod fathers also praised the role of grandparents, whose presence within the family deserved “special attention” and are crucial in passing on the faith to future generations.

In the eyes of synod members, the situation of men, women and children scattered and divided due to war, persecution and poverty was another of the most heart-breaking situations affecting families.

Forced migration, which “traumatizes people and destabilizes the family,” requires a two-fold pastoral ministry not only for migrants, but also for the families they have left behind, the report said.

“Humanity’s history is a history of migrants: this truth is inscribed in the lives of people and of families,” the report said. “Our faith also stresses this: We are all pilgrims.”

The value of families who endure the difficulties of lovingly caring for members who have disabilities or special needs also was emphasized. Those families, the report said, “give the church and society a precious witness of faithfulness to the gift of life.”

“The family that accepts with the eyes of faith the presence of people with disabilities can recognize and guarantee the quality and value of every life, with its needs, its rights and its opportunities,” the report said.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, described the synod’s response to families of people with special needs as “among the most poetic areas” of the report.

It’s a particularly moving point for Archbishop Kurtz, whose older brother Georgie was born with Down syndrome.

“I don’t want to minimize the heroic nature of what people are going through, especially as they receive a child with special needs, but the gift is just extraordinary,” Archbishop Kurtz told journalists Oct. 25. This gift, he noted, was not only for his family but for his neighborhood, parish and town.

Following the death of their parents, Georgie lived with his younger brother in two rectories and a bishop’s house until his death in 2002. Archbishop Kurtz said that Georgie’s presence “changed the nature of those rectories.”

“They became a home,” the archbishop said. “I never anticipated that.”

 

A video to accompany this story can be found at https://youtu.be/oCU5Mvftjk0

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Indifference on migrant crisis leads to complicity, Pope Francis says

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Indifference to the crises and tragedies today’s migrants and refugees are facing lead to complicity when people remain silent or refuse to act, Pope Francis said.

Jesus’ call to welcome the stranger and show mercy is clear, the pope said in a message released at the Vatican Oct. 1. Read more »

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European practice on migrants is contradictory, Vatican official says

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Catholic News Service

GENEVA (CNS) — Europe is practicing a policy of contradictions in addressing an influx of migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, said the archbishop who heads the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the U.N. in Geneva.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi called on European leaders to consider a more farsighted approach to the growing challenge migrants pose to the continent. Read more »

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Vatican official at U.N. meeting urges family-unity priority for migrants

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GENEVA — Migrant families whose members are often separated pose unique challenges as globalization sweeps the world and deserve special consideration so that family unity remains a priority, a Vatican official told a United Nations meeting.

Children in families in which one or both parents migrate long distances for employment as well as the elderly and spouses left at home must become a “high priority in any migration policy debate,” Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican’s permanent representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, said Oct. 8 during the 2014 International Dialogue on Migration of the International Organization for Migration.

“They are particularly vulnerable and hence should receive special protection,” he told the delegates.

He called for transnational efforts that cross international borders so that the needs of migrant workers are not forgotten in a world built around economic growth. Migrants deserve great respect because of the service and positive economic and social contribution they offer in their host countries, the archbishop added.

While migrant workers provide greater financial resources to their families, money alone will not compensate for the loss of human affection, the presence to influence values, integrity and personal behavior, Archbishop Tomasi explained.

He said policies and programs affecting migrating workers in all nations should maximize the remittances workers send home, limit the negative effects of migration and emphasis family ties as a primary concern.

Immigration reform measures being considered in countries must involve forming “the legal framework that helps keep families together,” Archbishop Tomasi said.

“By allowing children to emigrate unaccompanied, further problems arise as they are exposed to lawlessness and despair,” he said. “The family structure, however, should be the place where hope, compassion, justice and mercy are taught most effectively. Family is the basic unit of coexistence, its foundation, and the ultimate remedy against social fragmentation.”

The archbishop also outlined several measures that would help maintain family unit. They included allowing migrants who are restricted or prevented from traveling home to care for elderly parents or care for children should be allowed occasional leaves and benefit from special prices for travel; lower interest fees for transferring remittances home; speedier processes for obtaining visas for a spouse or close family member; and a greater availability of ad hoc family counselors in areas with a high amount of migrant workers.

“States and civil society are prompted by their own future to give priority to the family and thus make migrations a more positive experience for all,” he said.

 

 

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Pope prays for migrants, calls for aid

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI expressed concern for the millions of migrants around the world, and encouraged the agencies trying to help them.

“I entrust to the Lord all those who, often forcibly, must leave their homeland, or who are stateless,” the pope said at his noon blessing Dec. 4.

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