A crisis of global proportions

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

One of the great humanitarian challenges of our time has been the migration and refugee crisis that has grabbed the attention of the whole world.

Until recently, many of us in the United States have thought about migration primarily as an American concern. We think of our own immigration crisis. Recent political debates have reminded us of the complex issues surrounding our own immigration problems.

How ought we to deal compassionately and justly with the seemingly unrelenting flow of migrants that for years have entered our country, especially through our southern border? What ought we to do with those who are already here without proper documentation? What are the causal factors that have led to this large-scale movement of people?  The factors are many: these men, women and children are often escaping the crushing burden of poverty or fleeing the violence of war, gangs and criminal activity.

The conditions that lead people to flee their homelands require long-term solutions. We need to have border security, of course.  But, there are larger questions. What changes are needed to foster improved conditions in those countries from which people are fleeing so that these persons will not feel the need to leave their homes and families and set out on such an arduous and dangerous trek?

Few people leave their homelands because they want to. Most often it is the last option remaining for these vulnerable people who are seeking safety and a secure life for themselves and their families. As Pope Francis has pointed out during his pastoral visit to the United States, these are not only policy questions for governments; they are questions that Catholics and all people of good will must address from the perspective of faith and human dignity. These are our brothers and sisters.

More recently, we have been reminded that migration is not merely an American phenomenon but a global one. Through the graphic images disseminated by social and mainstream media, the world’s attention has turned to the migration and refugee crisis in the Middle East. The rise of ISIS has caused massive displacement of persons throughout the region. The refugees and internally displaced persons are often Muslims on the wrong side of the ISIS ideology. But, they are also Christians and other religious minorities.

We have witnessed the horrifying images of Christians being crucified and beheaded at the hands of radical extremists. I have witnessed firsthand the displacement of tens of thousands of Christians and Yazidis in camps in Erbil and Dohuc during a recent visit to Iraq with Catholic Relief Services (CRS). On that same visit I met and spoke with the Archbishop of Mosul, who lives in exile after he, along with his priests and people, was forced to flee the city where one of the oldest Christian communities in the world had flourished since the 2nd century. The Middle East is in danger of losing its ancient Christian population.

In the past few weeks, we have seen a massive flow of refugees forming a human river fleeing Syria and moving across Turkey to reach Europe seeking safety and security in whatever countries will welcome them. Pope Francis has called on all parishes and religious communities in Europe to open their doors and provide hospitality for families that are being displaced. The Syrian refugee population represents the largest forced migration since World War II.

Since this has been in the news, I have been asked frequently what the Church is doing to help. The answer is that the Church is doing more than most people think. We need to continue to scale up our response and we are doing so. The Knights of Columbus, for example, recently announced a major initiative to come to the aid of persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Last year, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops took up a special collection to assist Christians in the region. It is being administered by CRS and other Catholic agencies such as Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church In Need.

Because of its more than 70 years of service in the region, CRS is well-positioned to assist and is already making a huge impact. Working with its local partners, CRS has already provided assistance to more than 600,000 persons throughout the region to support Syrians and the local communities that have been affected by the influx of refugees. CRS is supporting our Church partners in Greece, Albania, Macedonia and Serbia to provide immediate assistance to these refugees on their way through Europe. In Iraq, CRS has already served about 100,000 displaced persons with food, shelter and housing assistance.

Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian aid and development agency of the USCCB. It serves in more than 100 countries, representing American Catholics’ concern for the poor and most vulnerable around the world. If you wish to help or learn more about what CRS is doing to address this crisis or to learn about more about its many works, please go to crs.org.

Please continue to pray for our brothers and sisters who are suffering around the world.

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