Wednesday, September 9, 2015

How should I welcome the stranger?

There has been a lot of discussion on blogs I read (Catholic and other) about the current migrant/refugee crisis and what ought to be done about it all.

I think it's wise for us Catholics to start with the Catechism:
2241 The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.
And then we should also consider Pope Francis' recent words:
In St. Peter’s Square, the pope told a Sunday gathering that it was not enough to merely sympathize with those brought to Europe’s shores by convulsions of war and hardship.

“May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe, take in one family,” the pope said, according to Vatican Radio. He added that the Vatican would take in two families.
“The Gospel calls us to be close to the smallest, and to those who have been abandoned,” the pontiff said.
Taken together, these things mean that Catholics really can't just turn our backs on this matter, or insist that the refugees be kept quasi-permanently in tent cities, or otherwise remain unmoved by their plight.  What exactly we can do will depend on many things, including the United States' political decisions regarding whether any more people from these stricken areas may enter our country.  Mindfulness in prayer and thoughtful donations to the appropriate charities who are helping these people should be among those things many of us can do.

Unfortunately I'm seeing a lot of highly negative comments and opinions by various observers, some of whom are Catholic, who seem to think some rather odd things.  Some seem to think, for instance, that it is perfectly acceptable for Catholics to refuse to help or to bar the way to any but Christian immigrants. Others would counsel a policy of refusal on the grounds that letting Syrians and others into Europe will destroy European culture.  Still others have veered into outright xenophobia or racism.

Neither the Catechism of the Catholic Church nor anyone else says that no one is allowed to make prudent choices regarding specific types of aid offered to specific groups of immigrants. But if I may borrow from Mark Shea's formulation during the endless torture debates, the question here for Catholics ought to be, "How should I welcome the stranger?" not "How can I tiptoe right up to the line of indifference or outright hostility to the stranger without actually crossing that line?"

Now, "How can I welcome the stranger?" is a question that may indeed be framed by legitimate practical considerations.  If, for instance, a specific Catholic parish in Europe, mindful of the pope's call but unable to act on it owing to local laws prohibiting the actual physical taking in of a refugee family, regretfully determines that they are unable to extend this particular form of help, but instead raises a collection to send to a parish somewhere else that is able to take in a family or two--that is fine.  If a group of lay Catholics in Germany decides that they wish to establish a humanitarian fund that will help Syrians who wish to do so to remain in or nearer to Syria instead of migrating, that, too, is fine (again, provided it is permissible by appropriate laws).  The focus on welcoming the stranger and helping the oppressed is not dimmed by trying to do so creatively and well.

But "How can I tiptoe right up to the line of indifference or outright hostility to the stranger without actually crossing that line?" is not a legitimate moral question.  It seeks to continue to think of the migrant or refugee as an object instead of a person--and an object, sadly, for derision or contempt or full-blown hatred.  Such are the attitudes of those who see in the faces of weary families only terrorists or Muslims or the Other; such are the words of those whose fear of these people would remain if only a thousand, or only five thousand, were coming.

Again and again in the Gospels Christ makes it clear: there are no Others.  There are no strangers.  There are only neighbors.  And how we treat our neighbors in situations like these reveals more about our faithful discipleship to Him than we may realize.


Daddio said...

Also to be avoided, the attitude of "The Church, or the parish, should totally do something to help here..."
There aren't enough Franciscan Friars in the world, even if I could write them a check with a lot of zeroes. The question is, What am *I* going to do for the poor and the stranger and the pregnant teenager?

Kirt Higdon said...

I have some modest credentials to comment on this since back in the 1980's, decades before it suddenly became fashionable, I helped out a number of refugees/immigrants from the Middle East. I hired some, assisted others in getting employment, gave material assistance to some, even sponsored one refugee family. They were of various ethnicities and included Shia Moslems and various Christian churches. (No Sunni Moslems.) I've always been happy I did this. I made many friends, some of whom I am in touch with to this day.

If Middle East refugees show up in my city, neighborhood or parish, I'll do my best to help them out, as I did back then. That said, I don't want to encourage them to come to the US. The reasons differ for Moslems and Christians.

Christians are a good fit, but do we really want to assist the IS and other jihadists in their drive to rid the mideast of all Christians? It seems to me that Glen Beck and his Nazareth project, however well intentioned, is doing exactly that by paying to resettle Christians still in Syria in the US. Do we really want to rid the lands where the seed of Christianity first took root of all vestiges of Christianity?

With Moslems, the problem is not that the IS will infiltrate terrorists among the refugees, but that the mass of the refugees blame the US (with considerable justice) for their plight. It is largely US arms and munitions which have devastated their countries whether these arms were wielded by Americans or others. The IS has openly stated that it is driving the refugees ahead of it as an advance guard invasion force. Historically this tactic was quite successfully used by the Huns and Mongols, by the latter specifically against the Hungarians.

Europe is much more vulnerable than is the US and I can imagine the panic of the Hungarian government and people as Moslem mobs stone their trains and police while chanting "Alahu akbar!" Chaos now engulfs Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya and is erupting in Turkey and Lebanon. How does it profit anyone to bring this to Europe or the US.

What the US can do is cut off all arms supply and sales to any faction or country and cease all military action. This should have been done long ago, but it's never too late to stop killing people. What individual Catholics should do is welcome those refugees/immigrants who show up and in the meantime contribute to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. CNEWA gives aid to these people where they live.

Sarah said...

I understand your concern about ridding the Middle East of Christians. However we have to think of what's best for the actual Christians there - the people themselves. They have a right to live, to not be persecuted or bombed or starved.