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Migration Week offers opportunity to learn about immigrants, refugees

The joy of Christmas was deepened for me when I opened the newspaper Dec. 26. There I read about the good work being done by members of St. Wenceslaus Parish in Omaha to sponsor and welcome a family of refugees who have fled years of violence in their Syrian homeland.

Other parishes and groups in our archdiocese have been involved in resettlement efforts like this over the years. Many parishioners contribute in ways large and small. Some will walk with their new neighbors for many years, as they continue the transition to life in a new place. It is beautiful to see strong parish life bear good fruit in this way.

Reading about this modern-day resettlement, I was reminded during this season of the flight of Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus into Egypt. They were fleeing for their lives to escape the senseless violence being inflicted by Herod. We know they had trust in the plan of God. We can also imagine they had to depend on the help and kindness of others as they sought a safe place to stay.

Christmas cards picture the holy family on their journey, carrying almost nothing with them. We don’t see the faces of all who would have helped them, but we can be thankful that they did help.

I have also been reminded of something I witnessed in the summer of 1975, just after my ordination to the priesthood. As I was preparing to move into my first assignment as a priest, I learned that the parish was awaiting the arrival of a large family of refugees from Vietnam, whom parishioners were helping resettle.

I had not known much about the parish previously. As I watched them spring into action on behalf of this new family, meeting material and spiritual needs, befriending them, I learned something about that community as I was unpacking. They had much to teach me then and in the following years about putting faith into action.

I also learned then that not everyone will think that welcoming refugees and other newcomers is a good idea. Certainly there is disagreement in our country today about whether or how this should be done. The challenges of immigration and refugee resettlement necessarily involve political questions. As disciples of Jesus Christ, however, we are invited to see immigrants as our brothers and sisters, whose dignity and safety call for a response in faith.

The Catholic Church in the United States will observe Jan. 8-14, 2017, as National Migration Week, as we have for nearly a half century. This is an opportunity for us to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, including immigrants, refugees, children and victims and survivors of human trafficking.

The theme for National Migration Week is taken from Pope Francis’ teaching: Creating a Culture of Encounter. The pope continues to remind us that when we encounter the persecuted or the stranger, we encounter Jesus.

Perhaps the greatest temptation for us in our busy lives is not so much to harbor a disdain for the stranger as it is to fail to notice him or her as a person. We may not feel the need to ever engage migrants in a meaningful way, as fellow children of God. We may remain aloof to their presence, or even suspicious of their customs or intentions. When he spoke at Independence Hall in Philadelphia a little over a year ago, Pope Francis reminded us that each one has a name, a face and a story.

Since 2010, 3.6 million immigrants have become naturalized U.S. citizens. Many others have become legal permanent residents. Many more are seeking a way forward to legal status, even as they pay billions of dollars in taxes and work hard to support their families. With an appreciation for our common humanity, we must find the spiritual and political will to construct a more humane and coherent immigration policy in our country.

Far from our borders, there are currently more than 65 million people around the world who have been displaced from their homes by political instability and violence. This is the largest number of refugees since World War II. A small percentage have been resettled in recent years, from Congo, Syria, Sudan, Burma, Iraq and Somalia. The majority remain in refugee camps, often for years. These, too, are our brothers and sisters.

I have the privilege of serving on the board of Catholic Relief Services (CRS). CRS is hard at work, on behalf of American Catholics, to meet the immediate human needs of those who face an uncertain future in refugee camps. Please take time to visit the CRS website (crs.org). You will also learn of practical ways that you can help CRS help them.

I hope you will take the occasion of National Migration Week to learn more about the challenges facing migrants and refugees, in our country and around the world. We pray that God will protect them from harm and lead them to a safe home.

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