November 29, 2015
"We know the refugees. They are us." -
Church leaders react after Paris attacks -
Year of Mercy starts Dec. 8 -
Mercy in a suffering world
In this edition:
1. Scapegoating Syrian refugees.
2. Fear, mercy and refugees.
3. The refugees "are us."
4. Muslim leaders on Paris attacks.
5. Current quotes to ponder:
a) Reaction to Paris terrorism.
b) The Syrian refugees.
6. Year of Mercy in suffering world.
7. Faith and mercy after Paris attacks.
1. Scapegoating Syrian Refugees
Refugees fleeing violence in Syria must not be blamed "for the actions of a terrorist organization," Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle said in a Nov. 17 statement issued during the U.S. Catholic bishops' national meeting in Baltimore. He chairs the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration. His statement came four days after terrorist attacks in Paris, France, killed 130 people.
Bishop Elizondo spoke on behalf of the migration committee at a time when numerous political leaders and others were calling for a halt to plans to admit refugees from Syria into the United States out of fear that terrorists might disguise themselves as refugees and slip unnoticed into Europe and perhaps America and other places.
"These refugees are fleeing terror themselves -- violence like we have witnessed in Paris," Bishop Elizondo said. He recommended that, "instead of using this tragedy to scapegoat all refugees," public officials "work together to end the Syrian conflict peacefully." Then "the close to 4 million Syrian refugees" could return home and rebuild their lives.
But, the bishop added, "until that goal is achieved, we must work with the world community to provide safe haven to vulnerable and deserving refugees who are simply attempting to survive."
He pointed out that refugees hoping to enter the United States "must pass security checks and multiple interviews before entering the United States." It takes "up to two years for a refugee to pass through the whole vetting process," he said, adding that "we can look at strengthening the already stringent screening program, but we should continue to welcome those in desperate need."
Bishop Elizondo offered his "deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris," as well as to the French people. He added his voice "to all those condemning these attacks" and expressed "support to all who are working to ensure such attacks do not occur again" anywhere.
2. Fear, Mercy and Refugees
"Fear is an insidious thing that entraps the mind and intellect. It blinds us to the values that have guided our lives and causes us to make irrational statements and decisions," Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas, Texas, wrote Nov. 24 in his blog on the diocese's website.
Taking issue with those who want to halt plans to resettle Syrian refugees in the United States, the bishop suggested that such a move would be "antithetical to American values and the teaching of Jesus Christ."
Bishop Farrell characterized "the recent spate of declarations by more than half the nation's governors that they would not accept Syrian refugees in their states" as "a troubling example of xenophobia."
He suggested, too, that the current attitudes of many toward refugee resettlement contrasts sharply with the emphasis Pope Francis continually places on mercy. A Year of Mercy begins in the Catholic Church Dec. 8. Bishop Farrell wrote:
"Mercy is the hallmark of the papacy of Pope Francis, who said shortly after his election, 'I think we, too, are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy.'"
America, Bishop Farrell observed, "has been the hope of refuge" in the past for "Puritans fleeing religious oppression," and it represents a similar hope today for "those fleeing war and religious intolerance." It is sad, however, that "there have always been those who choose to see immigrants as a threat to our way of life instead of enriching our diversity."
In cautionary words he wrote, "We are prone to choose to diminish our values and freedom in the name of protecting them."
3. "We Know the Refugees. They Are Us."
"The entire world stands with the victims of [the] atrocities" in Paris Nov. 13. But even as these "heinous acts" are decried, "we must guard against the temptation to give in to the fear and the panic that terrorist groups such as ISIS seek to sow," Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago wrote in an op-ed piece that appeared Nov. 22 in the Chicago Sun-Times.
He pointed out that "in the days since Paris, some Americans have called for us to break our promise to the global community that we would help resettle just 10,000 of the 4 million Syrian refugees who have had no choice but to flee their homes." These refugees, he said, "are mostly women and children who have risked their lives to escape unimaginable terror and persecution in the Syrian civil war and at the hands of the Islamic State."
The worry on the part of critics is "that some of these refugees might be ISIS agents," Archbishop Cupich explained. And "while the sincerity" of this "concern cannot be called into question," he added, "we must do our best to separate facts from fear -- particularly when it could mean closing our door on thousands of innocent people who are running for their lives."
In an overview of "the facts" of this matter, Archbishop Cupich wrote:
"If you want to enter the United States, doing so as a refugee is already the longest, most difficult process that exists. The security screening process for refugees is more stringent than the process for foreign tourists, students, business people or anyone else. It takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months or longer and involves the FBI, Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Defense Department and the State Department. Your biometric data is checked against law enforcement databases. You must pass a battery of interviews. And if you're from Syria, the process is even more rigorous."
Since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, "the United States has accepted about 2,000 Syrians," Archbishop Cupich said. He added that "over the entire period of refugee settlement since" the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, "our security apparatus has kept us safe."
He asked, "Why, then, should we turn away people who pass such a rigorous process? How can we look the other way as they huddle with their children in foreign lands with barely any shelter, clothing or food?"
These people, he said, "are our neighbors." He wondered what Chicago would be "without our Latino brothers and sisters, our Polish brothers and sisters, our Irish, Italian, German, Greek, Scandinavian, Filipino, Chinese and Korean brothers and sisters?"
So many Americans "come from families who endured countless struggles to make a better life for their children and grandchildren," he observed. Thus, "we, too, are refugees."
Catholics value the "tradition of welcoming the stranger," said the archbishop. For "we know what it is like to be strangers, unwelcome in this land."
With those thoughts in mind, his op-ed piece was titled: "We know the refugees. They are us."
4. Muslim Leaders Condemn Paris Attacks
Some 150 British Muslim leaders signed a statement of solidarity issued the day after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, France, that killed 130 people. "There is no justification for murder, and all British faith communities agree that those who commit acts of violence cannot do so in the name of any faith. Any such claim is illegitimate," said the Muslim leaders.
"The perpetrators do not represent us," they stated. They described the views held by the terrorists as "perverse and self-serving."
The Muslim leaders expressed hope that the terrorist actions would not divide Britons. "The terrorists will win," the leaders said, if they succeed in dividing people.
The leaders urged Britons to resist playing into the terrorists' "divisive narrative" and instead to "show them that people of all faiths and none can live peacefully together."
The statement also expressed concern that there could be "some in the days ahead who will try to use this atrocity to attack innocent people." It said, "We equally reject their intentions."
Signers of the statement included Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, and the statement appeared on the council's website. Dr. Shafi also released a separate statement after the Paris attacks condemning the violence "in the strongest possible terms." He said:
"This attack is being claimed by the group calling themselves 'Islamic State.' There is nothing Islamic about such people, and their actions are evil and outside the boundaries set by our faith."
5. Current Quotes to Ponder
Reaction After Paris Attacks: "Today I offer my prayers . . . for those who have been shot dead as they enjoyed moments of relaxation and entertainment. I pray for the bereaved, for those who have been traumatized. I pray for the city of Paris that it will courageously recover its poise as one of the great cities of the world. I pray for the police and security forces who will continue their front-line fight against this evil madness. I pray, too, for the Muslim communities in France and here in England that they may not be victimized because of the actions of these violent and ruthless extremists but strive always for the way of peace and cooperation with the wider society." (From a Nov. 14 statement by Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, England, on the terrorist attacks in Paris, France, one day earlier)
The Syrian Refugees: "You cannot open a newspaper or turn on the TV or sign onto social media without being confronted by the heartbreaking reality of a world in danger of losing sight of our common humanity in the gravest way. As Syrian refugees run for their lives with little more than the clothes on their backs, shadowed by the constant threat of persecution and genocide, politicians here at home resort to rhetoric -- and policies -- that appeal to our darkest fears. We cannot give in to xenophobia and misplaced blame! . . . National security remains, first and foremost, a responsibility of our political leaders. At the same time, recognizing that refugees of all faiths and nationalities are our brothers and sisters, most people are naturally drawn to welcome and assist them, not only because our faith tells us so, but also because human decency demands it. . . . We simply cannot turn our backs on those who have lost everything, in some cases their lives, because of their faith. We are one, and when we forget that, we slip dangerously toward becoming more like the people we fear than the people we were created to be." (From a Nov. 20 statement by Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, N.Y.)
6. Year of Mercy in a Suffering World
The Year of Mercy that begins Dec. 8 in the worldwide church challenges believers "to intensify the practice of mercy in the world," said Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas. He posted a message about the demands of mercy to his blog on the diocese's website. "Faith without love does not save, and a love that does not extend to help the one who suffers is useless," he wrote.
Mercy is badly needed in the kind of world we inhabit, Bishop Flores suggested. He said that "today's world suffers greatly," and "for the longest time we have suffered as human beings from cruelty and hardness of heart in the world."
But "it seems that in our era men's capacity to do harm has multiplied in proportion to our technological dominance," he commented. War and terrorism, cruelty toward the unborn and the temptation "to isolate ourselves behind our private screens to avoid human contact" are among signs "that the world needs to receive again the announcement of mercy," said the bishop.
God's mercy is a topic that "has shown itself as a primary focus of the church in our times," Bishop Flores observed. He noted that "St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and now Pope Francis" have "developed a profound teaching on this central mystery of the Catholic faith and of human life." The bishop considered it "a sign of God's providence over the world and over the church that this teaching has deepened and spread during these years under the guidance" of three popes.
The topic of mercy "is inexhaustible, as it is about the unending sources of God's love," said Bishop Flores.
Mercy ought to be addressed from two angles, the bishop stressed. First, there is the mercy of God that is received and that "comes to heal and strengthen us." Second, "through his merciful deeds toward us" the Lord "invites us to extend this grace and mercy to others who suffer."
Bishop Flores wrote, "The person who has lived the mercy of God receives . . . a holy impulse calling him or her to become an agent of God's mercy in the world."
Thus "the Year of Mercy invites us to rediscover and deepen our personal encounter with God's mercy." Moreover, this year "invites us to find new paths to express mercy toward other people." In Bishop Flores' view "it is very clear that without receiving God's mercy, as Christians, we cannot live this mercy in relation with others."
7. Faith and Mercy After Paris Attacks
"Faith that does not foster questioning in our hearts and that becomes an ideology opens the path to dangerous fundamentalism," Irish Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said in a Nov. 14 homily in that city, the day after terrorist attacks in Paris killed 130 people. The events in Paris represented "a horrific example of what fundamentalism can do and what happens when religion is distorted for ideological reasons," he commented.
His homily took note of faith's changing role in contemporary society and the alienation of many today from church teaching and culture. In this context, he said that for him "the only thing to do is to take a serene and faith-filled look at what we can do and what we must do in order to make the message of Jesus Christ known and understood by people within the real-life situations in which we live."
He stated, "We are called to preach and witness to Jesus Christ, and if the church is not touching the hearts of people today it is because we have not effectively taught and witnessed to Jesus Christ."
Faith, Archbishop Martin said, "is hard to define." He explained:
"Faith does not possess all the answers, and faith is not a magic answer. Faith is not something which does away with all doubt. Faith is not just about theology books and church documents and ready-made answers, but about a relationship with Jesus Christ. Without that relationship with Jesus Christ, the outward signs of faith can be empty and misleading."
After speaking of the terrorist attacks in Paris, the archbishop noted that "Pope Francis has spoken about the dangers of a sort of fundamentalism in Catholicism, a self-referential church so caught up in its own inner workings that it fails to focus on Jesus himself, whose message does not imprison us within ourselves but should drive us beyond ourselves into the peripheries of society and into the peripheries of our own existence."
It is sad, Archbishop Martin said, that "in many cases we have inherited from our past religious culture a false idea of God as a harsh judgmental God." The archbishop feared that "if we cling to such an idea of God, then we will fall into and pass on to others only a deeper discouragement and pessimism and painful scrupulosity."
But "the God revealed in Jesus Christ is a God who shows himself above all in mercy and compassion," according to Archbishop Martin. He insisted that "our God is a God like the Good Samaritan who sees and recognizes suffering and responds, not through social commentary but in embrace and carrying of the wounded, and caring for them until they are finally restored to human fullness."