Taking action for immigrants and refugees

Pope Francis greets immigrants and representatives of Caritas Internationalis during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Sept. 27. Caritas Internationalis was kicking off its “Share the Journey” campaign in support of immigrants. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

by Jill Ragar Esfeld
jill.esfeld@theleaven.org

Jesus said, “”Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me” (Mk 9:37).

As Catholics, that’s all the information we need to respond to the crisis of refugees on our southern border.

It’s ironic that this week, with the news centered on the plight of refugees, is also Global Action Week.

Part of the wider, two-year Share the Journey campaign launched by Pope Francis and Caritas Internationalis in September 2017, Global Action Week’s goal is to heighten awareness and build empathy for migrants and refugees.

The week coincides with World Refugee Day, which was started on June 20, 2001, by the United Nations Refugee Agency, and is celebrated annually in more than 100 countries.

On Tuesday, Caritas Rome held a lunch in the city’s main soup kitchen to celebrate this week of global action surrounding World Refugee Day.

In a message to participants, Pope Francis reminded the world that “we are one human family.”

The current crises at the United States border with Mexico stems from desperate refugees crossing illegally because legal ports of entry are backlogged.

These families are seeking refuge from desperate situations of torture and violence in their home countries in Central America.

At legal ports, some refugees must wait weeks for a chance to speak with U.S. authorities as their families suffer in sweltering heat. So, they cross illegally and present themselves immediately to border patrol.

The country’s Catholic bishops have joined many Christian organizations, pleading with the administration to treat refugees — especially children — humanely and to reform procedures for processing refugees at ports of entry.

But what can we do as we sit in our living rooms watching television pundits argue about issues that seem so far away and beyond our ability to impact?

We can act as people of faith in four distinct ways:

  • Call our legislators and demand fair and humane immigration reform
  • Donate to Catholic Charities and other services that aid refugees
  • Join the Share the Journey campaign at sharethejourney.org
  • Pray for our immigrant and refugee sisters and brothers.

Finally, here are two saints that the church recognizes as patron saints of refugees and immigrants that we can ask to intercede for those seeking asylum, and those trying to resolve the immigration crisis.

St. Alban is the patron saint of refugees, and his feast day is celebrated this Saturday, June 22.

St. Alban was the first Christian martyr in Britain during the early 4th century.

When Christians were being persecuted in Britain, Alban, though a non-Christian, hid a priest in his house.

The priest’s faith made such an impression on Alban, he soon converted to Christianity.

When soldiers came to arrest the priest, Alban helped him escape by switching clothes with him.

Alban was caught and ordered to renounce his faith. When he refused, he was tortured and beheaded.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini’s feast day is celebrated on Nov. 13, and she is the patron saint of immigrants.

In 1889, when Frances arrived in New York from her home in Italy, there was no place for her to stay and she was told by the bishop to go home.

She refused and endured many hardships with her companion Sisters working and begging for funds to survive, and eventually serve others.

Also known as Mother Cabrini, she ultimately founded 67 hospitals, schools, and orphanages that served immigrants and refugees across this country.

She was the first naturalized U.S. citizen to become a canonized saint. 

Pope Francis launched Share the Journey the same year as the centennial of St, Frances Cabrini’s death.

As Catholics, we are never without means to impact a crisis, and it is always our duty to approach any problem through the prism of the Gospel.

Jesus gave us our instructions when he told us to love one another. The church gives us our direction by encouraging us to speak up, reach out, and pray.

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