Children in a refugee camp in Bangui

ACN - Aid to the Church in Need

Bishops Respond to Refugee Crisis

Emphasize obligation to welcome strangers

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As refugees continue to stream across the borders of many countries, an increasing number of bishops are speaking out about the need to provide shelter and assistance to those fleeing from their countries.

In past months, bishops in countries such as England and Wales, and the United States have launched appeals to assist refugees.

More recently, the Canadian bishops published a pastoral letter titled: “I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me.”

Instead of simply treating refugees as a problem, they said, we should rather be accepting them as our brothers and sisters who are in need.

Citing the words of Pope Francis in which he urged people to overcome the “globalization of indifference,” Canada’s bishops expressed the hope that their pastoral letter would stir people to action.

“The involuntary and obligatory nature of their migration demands of us a spontaneous response of charity built on the foundation of justice,” the letter explained.

The bishops drew attention to the large number of Christian refugees escaping from the constant conflict in Syria and Iraq. We must not accept barbarism and intolerance, they stated, and we are called upon to stand in solidarity with these refugees.

The letter referred to various passages in the Bible where strangers and those in need sought help, as well as the experience of the people of Israel, who often faced the need to migrate.

Jesus, the bishops reminded us, teaches us that the stranger is our neighbor and he even identifies himself with the stranger and those in need.

“When it comes to welcoming refugees in our own country, our action cannot be limited to simply providing assistance and accompaniment during the long process of selection, but must be aimed at the full inclusion of these newcomers, in a way that respects differences,” the bishops went on to explain.

The letter went on to set out a number of ways by which refugees could be helped and also expressed disappointment that often refugees are obliged to accept minimum-wage jobs in spite of their qualifications.

“Our faith calls us to let ourselves be moved – even disturbed – by our sisters and brothers who are refugees. They await our listening ears, our open hearts, and our outstretched arms to receive them,” the letter said.

A just response

From Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh published a pastoral letter last Sunday on the plight of refugees.

He explained that during the Synod on the Family he had heard from many fellow bishops about the conflicts afflicting their countries and the subsequent displacement of people.

The numbers of people fleeing to some countries are very high, and in addition the recipient nations are often poor. In Malawi, for example, they have seen over 400,000 refugees arrive.

Archbishop Martin praised the efforts of humanitarian workers and aid organizations in helping refugees.

“We are being confronted with a human tragedy that requires a generous political and church partnership to help meet the needs of these vulnerable people,” he added.

He finished with an exhortation to all, encouraging further efforts to meet the needs of refugees and encouraging people to pray for refugee and migrant families. He enclosed the following prayer.

A Prayer for Refugees

Almighty and merciful God,

Whose Son became a refugee

And had no place to call his own;

Look with mercy on those who today

Are fleeing from danger,

Homeless and hungry.

Bless those who work to bring them relief;

Inspire generosity and compassion in all our hearts;

And guide the nations of Europe towards that day

When all will rejoice in your Kingdom of justice and peace.

We make our prayer through Christ our Lord, Amen.

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