Catholic Social Teaching: The Church and Refugees Get Some Air Time

January 31, 2017

The following essay is by Fr. Francis Belanger, O.P., Promoter of Social Justice for the Province of St. Joseph:

Recently I was a guest on SiriusXM Satellite Radio’s The Catholic Channel on the topic of President Trump’s executive order on refugees and the Church’s response. Dominican Fr. John Devaney, a regular on the network, had been asked to host an ad hoc show on the topic and invited me as the Promoter of Social Justice for the Province of St. Joseph. It was a delight to be on the show and discuss some of the concerns that a ban on refugees raise from a Christian point of view.

Fr. John emphasized an important point about the Church and politics. Statements by both the U.S. Bishops Conference and by individual American bishops were critical of the Presidential Order, which temporarily banned citizens from seven predominately Moslem nations and  all refugees from entering the United States. But the Church is not interested in being partisan. Catholics are grateful, for instance, for the new administration’s recent demonstration of support for the Pro-life movement. But, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn once wrote, the line between good and evil does not go “between political parties… but right through every human heart.”And thus the Church has a duty to speak up whenever fallen humans who serve us in government choose a path that is based on false principles.

There is plenty of material both in Scripture and in the documents of the magisterium with which to critique harsh treatment of refugees. Most trenchantly one may recall Christ’s words to to the blessed, in the Gospel, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35) Pope Francis himself has made the plight of refugees a major emphasis. His first trip outside of Rome as Pope was to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, a haven for refugees. There he decried a worldwide “globalization of indifference”. And recently, in his Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, he taught that the dignified treatment of refugees is clearly part of “God’s plan” for Christians.

As Fr. John and I mentioned on the air, the two basic concerns for Christians when it comes to the refugee question in America are love for the person in need and protection of American citizens from terrorism. These concerns mirror the two hinge principles of Catholic Social Teaching: human dignity and the common good. There is an obligation on the part of individuals and the government both to respect the dignity of the individual refugees and be mindful of the safety of the populace. Naturally one grants the frightening possibility of terrorism, but the administration’s assertion that we can’t honor both principles is highly dubious. Indeed such apparent cruelty can serve to make the situation worse.

Had we had more time on the radio show, Fr. John and I would discuss a simple remedy for Catholics in facing this issue. It has to to with Sunday Mass, the high point and basis of our life as Christians. All throughout the month of February, the Liturgy of the Word will bring us the Sermon on the Mount, St. Matthew’s great presentation of the demands of the New Covenant. Whether one is distressed over the new policy on refugees or whether one wonders what the big deal is, we all will find wisdom in Jesus’ words about mercy, rejecting hatred, and loving one’s enemies. These are prescriptions for personal conduct but also for our social and political conduct. May we live accordingly and, by God’s power, be a leaven for truth and love in society.

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