Church Leaders Hail Bush for Remarks at Faith-Based Conference

Bishop Gregory Notes «Heartfelt Words Concerning Refugees»

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 7, 2004 ( U.S. bishops’ conference officials commended President George Bush for his remarks in support of refugees made at an inaugural White House conference on faith-based and community initiatives.

In a letter expressing appreciation to Bush for his «heartfelt words concerning refugees,» Bishop Wilton Gregory, episcopal conference president, said the American leader’s «commitment to re-energizing and sustaining the U.S. tradition of admitting refugees from around the world was very much welcomed.»

Mark Franken, executive director for the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, said: «It is heartening that the president has expressed his personal support for refugees and the need for Americans to be welcoming of them.»

Citing the dramatic reductions in refugee admissions since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Franken said, «Presidential leadership will be required to ensure that the refugee admissions program is fully restored, so that once again our great nation can be a beacon of hope and rescue for some of the world’s persecuted.»

In his remarks during last week’s conference, Bush emphasized the importance of receiving and caring for refugees.

«As well, our great nation receives tens of thousands of refugees, which is good,» Bush said. «These souls flee persecution and need help when they come to our country. Not only are there persons in our neighborhoods who are addicted and lonely and homeless and hungry, there are people who have come from faraway lands that need the same concern and care and love that our fellow citizens receive.»

In particular, the president highlighted the stories of two refugees, both resettled through local Catholic Charities programs.

«Thanks to the Catholic social agency in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a soul has been lifted,» the president said of Victoria, a Liberian woman assisted by Catholic Charities of Allentown.

In speaking about a Sudanese youth named Elijah, the president said that «Commonwealth Catholic Charities [in Richmond, Virginia] helped rescue him, and he found a home near Richmond. See, the faith-based program helped save this guy’s life, and helped him have a bright future.»

The president also signaled out the bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services as a model of a faith-based organization partnering with the government to help persons in need.

Franken and nine other faith-based leaders, including Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis and Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, met with the president earlier on the day of the conference to discuss a variety of issues, including assistance to refugees and the need for reforms in our country’s immigration laws.

«The president was very engaged with the issues and promised his continued support for re-energizing and restoring the refugee program,» Franken said.

Franken added that much work needed to be done to ensure that refugees receive the protection they deserve, including a resettlement option.

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