Famished members of the Rohingya ethnic group are fleeing Myanmar, whose government has taken revenge against them because an insurgent group attacked police posts in Burma. Christians, Yadzidis and other ethnic and religious minorities may never be able to return to their homes in northern Iraq because of political tensions there. Around the world, 65 million displaced children, women and men live in fear and chaos. What can any one of us do to alleviate the suffering of so many?
We can take the first step forward by praying, learning more about the refugee crisis and then taking action on behalf of our brothers and sisters in need. Some Catholics in the Davenport Diocese have taken that first step, participating in a solidarity prayer walk. It is a component of the Share the Journey campaign that Pope Francis launched this fall in support of migrants and refugees. The Caritas Internationalis campaign (sharejourney.org) aims to inspire communities to build relationships with refugees and immigrants, and to love our neighbors in the U.S. and around the world.
About a dozen people participated in the solidarity prayer walk Oct. 24 at Newman Catholic Student Center on the University of Iowa campus, Iowa City. “I am a wife of a refugee and I also work with refugees,” reflected one of the walkers. She noted that the solidarity prayer walk “is a good beginning point to build awareness. But, sometimes it is hard for Americans to fully appreciate what they see as they haven’t truly experienced the trials of these people. While awareness and prayer are good, we need a commitment from every individual to make a difference. There are plenty of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and other refugees in our Iowa communities … can we start by helping them?”
Another walker reflected that the prayer book accompanying a display of 14 panels portraying refugees and immigrants “is really a platform or blueprint for how everyone should live … in compassion and action for others. Simple, yet difficult.” The walker makes a good point. It may be difficult to let go of our suspicions of the other, our resentment of the needs of people who appear, initially, to offer nothing in return. It may be difficult to appreciate the plight of people caught between extreme poverty and violence and an inability to provide for their families because we haven’t experienced those hardships.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops identifies three basic principles of Catholic Social Teaching on immigration:
• People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.
• A country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration.
• A country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy.
Governments will listen when their citizens make it clear that they don’t want injustice to continue, observes Widad Akreyi, who received the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award last week in Davenport. She also advises: don’t underestimate the power of a story, because stories and photos compel people to want to do something.
The current administration seeks to tighten immigration laws, build an expensive border wall and drastically reduce the number of refugees entering the U.S. One example: The U.S. Border Patrol recently enforced existing federal immigration law by beginning deportation proceedings against a 10-year-old girl with cerebral palsy whose family brought her to this country to get access to better medical care.
Insist that Congress enact laws that foster human flourishing inside and outside of our borders, such as the DREAM Act. This bipartisan bill would provide lawful, permanent resident status on a conditional basis to qualified, undocumented individuals brought to the U.S. as young children. They know no other home.
Take that first step. Participate in or organize a solidarity prayer walk. St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport will host one tonight, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. To arrange a solidarity prayer walk, contact diocesan Social Action Director Kent Ferris at (563) 888-4211 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The refugee and migration crisis seems daunting. But we can alleviate it one step at a time.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor