One of the biggest social problems facing our nation and our world today involves a collective response to the terrible plight of refugees and other immigrants seeking a home in a foreign land.
For example, thousands of refugees are permitted entry into the United States every year because they cannot return to their home country and do not enjoy basic rights in the country where they previously sought refuge.
Refugees are of special humanitarian concern to the United States and are a testament to our nation’s long, proud tradition of providing sanctuary to those who seek lives free from violence and oppression.
Meeting the needs
Since 1975 alone, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, through the work of the Office of Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) and the national network of more than 100 diocesan agencies, primarily Catholic Charities, has partnered with the U.S. government in the resettlement of close to 1 million refugees from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Near East and Latin America.
During federal fiscal year 2013, at least 74,000 refugees and special immigrants are expected to be resettled in the United States. Of this number, at least 19,000 are expected to be assisted by the federal government and diocesan agencies in a public-private partnership that brings together both federal funds and local resources of cash as well as in-kind goods and services. The combination of both is essential to meeting these needs.
In his Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2013, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, quotes his own reflection in the encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” citing the fact that migration is “a striking phenomenon because of the sheer numbers of people involved, the social, economic, political, cultural and religious problems it raises, and the dramatic challenges it poses to nations and the international community” (number 62), for “every migrant is a human person who, as such, possesses fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone and in every circumstance” (ibid.).
The theme of the pope’s message this year is “Migrations: pilgrimage of faith and hope.” The faith that migrants have lies in their desire for a better life for themselves and their families. Their hope lies in leaving behind an unpromising future.
The Catholic Church has consistently been on the forefront of offering assistance, resources, welcome programs and, most of all, spiritual opportunities to those who find themselves in such difficult situations. The pope points out that human welfare goes hand in hand with spiritual communion, treating the migrant in a holistic way.
The pontiff also recalls that the Second Vatican Council and its constitution “Gaudium et Spes” listed the right of persons to migrate as one of the fundamental human rights (number 65).
At the same time, the need also exists to reaffirm the right people have not to emigrate, that is to say, the right to live in one’s own country.
Often, however, the conditions of economic instability, natural disaster, war or other forms of special unrest force persons to migrate for the shear sake of survival. Many of these fall victim to exploitation and are forced to live at the margins of society. This is especially a concern for women and children. Human trafficking has become a big business even in such states as our own. Programs are urgently required to provide humanitarian protection for those who are caught in this vicious state of enslavement.
Here in our archdiocese, our Catholic Charities, with the support of Catholic Services Appeal dollars, has provided migration and refugee services for over 30 years, working with the State Refugee Office and other voluntary refugee placement agencies in providing legal services and public benefits for refugees.
Twin Cities Catholic Charities alone annually resettles anywhere from 300 to 350 refugees. Recent recipients come from Somalia, Nepal, Bhutan and Burma, including the Karen and Mon ethnic groups.
In addition, our Catholic Charities provides services to victims of human trafficking by collaborating with local police departments as well as through community education programs. The impact that these efforts make cannot be underestimated.
Truly this is our Catholic faith in action, as newcomers find a home among us, beginning to build a better life for themselves and sharing that life with the rest of us.
God bless you!