Who is the Stranger at the Gate?

Sr. Barb Kane shares this interview with Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, the Executive Director of Catholic Charities in New York City, to help us better understand the Church’s call to welcome immigrants.

Jesus taught us to see Him in the displaced. Can we find the courage to let Him in? 

It’s impossible to ignore the heated rhetoric currently surrounding the issue of immigration and refugees in America – and the heartbreaking news of human suffering at our borders. We sat down with Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of New York, to discuss how Catholic values can guide us.


Illustration by Vinny Bove

Archways: The Old Testament tells us to be kind to the displaced. Jesus, in Matthew 35, says that when we treat a stranger kindly or cruelly, we are doing the same to Him. How can we apply these teachings to the current crisis? 

Msgr. Sullivan: The biblical teachings speak to our attitudes as religious people. We should be welcoming and hospitable to those who are different than ourselves, from different places. At the same time, there’s a need to be very careful. You can’t find in either the Old or the New Testament a prescription as to what the immigration laws, rules and regulations should be in every situation and in every nation. That’s not what the Bible is about. However, our Christian values need to be applied in the way we treat those who are coming to our country for refuge, those who are fleeing violence and extortion and even those simply seeking a better life for their families.

AW: What would you say to Americans (including Catholics) who are afraid or angry about the tide of immigrants and asylum seekers – and want to send them back?

Msgr. Sullivan: From a Catholic perspective, we believe in secure borders. We believe in legal immigration. We don’t encourage people to illegally immigrate. At the same time, we recognize the right of people who are fleeing for their lives – persecution, extortion, violence – to seek refuge in another place. I have visited the Northern Triangle – Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras – where most of the families are currently coming from, and I can tell you that they really don’t want to come. They feel that they have to come for the sake of their lives and their families. Those who seek refuge in our country should be given a fair hearing to make their case.

It is discouraging, at a time when the world has about 25 million refugees – possibly the largest number since World War II – that the United States is decreasing the number of refugees we accept. We can’t take every single refugee in the world. But the fact that we are decreasing the number says that we are going in the wrong direction.

AW: Why should Americans have to take care of people from countries that are dysfunctional? Shouldn’t those people stay at home and fix their own dysfunctional countries?

Msgr. Sullivan: As Catholics, we probably have a broader perspective on migration than others, because we are a religion that is in every country. Our Christianity is not based on a race or ethnicity, but on faith. Our belief is that people in every country, in every land, are made in God’s image and likeness. We believe that people should not be forced to flee their own country, and that we should try to develop the safety, the economy, the educational systems of other countries so that people there can find decent jobs, can be educated, can feel safe. We believe both in a generous and welcoming immigration policy and in assistance in countries that are problematic, where there is corruption, where there aren’t sufficient jobs. That’s part of our Catholic global belief and solidarity.

AW: Critics charge that charitable organizations are promoting unlawful behavior by helping people who are in the country illegally. Is Catholic Charities helping people to break the law?

Msgr. Sullivan: Catholic Charities is following the mandate of Jesus to make sure that basic necessities of food, of shelter, are available to everybody. We don’t encourage illegal immigration. If a person is in our country without the right documents, we still believe they have basic human rights. We work very hard to see if there is a way that they can get the right documents and remedy their situation so that they can come out of the shadows and live a fuller life here.

  • AW: How can the average Catholic help immigrants and asylum seekers?

    Sullivan: The most important thing that we can do as people of the United States is to speak respectfully of one another and of immigrants and refugees and work toward creating a society in which everybody’s rights are respected. Beyond that, there are many ways that immigrants can be helped. In Catholic Charities we do English-as-a-second-language programs. So people who want to volunteer there can come to our website and learn to be conversation partners with immigrants. We also have immigration rights work-shops, and we do a help desk at immigration court.

    AW: How does it benefit us – spiritually and otherwise – to help immigrants and asylum seekers?

    Msgr. Sullivan: It benefits us in two ways. In an altruistic way, we are following the mandate of Jesus Christ to welcome the stranger. The Old Testament says it in a way that is very eloquent: Remember you were once aliens in a foreign land, so treat the resident alien as you would be treated yourself. Jesus says, if you welcome a stranger, you welcome Me.

    From a more self-serving point of view: This nation is arguably the most economically advanced in the world. Again, arguably, we are the most diverse nation in the world. This is a country that continues to welcome immigrants. I think if you put two and two together, you come to the conclusion that immigrants make our country a better place. It really is in the self-interest of the United States to welcome immigrants and those who seek refuge here, because they make our nation stronger.

    AW: What would it look like if this problem were solved? Can it be solved?

    Msgr. Sullivan: Our current immigration crisis is at the border and beyond the border. We do need to deal with the surge of migrants who are at the border in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California. But we also need to deal with the countries that are sending them; we have to enhance our collaboration with those countries – with governments, church organizations, nonprofits – so that the conditions there can be improved. Those conditions are driving the crisis at the border.

    At home, we need to update our immigration system. From our Catholic perspective, the values are really simple, although our politics can’t figure out how to get it done. We need secure borders. We need a policy of legal, generous and fair immigration that respects and fosters the unity of families. It’s got to make a provision for decent employment, on a temporary or permanent basis, in our industries that need those immigrants as workers. And we need to figure out a way for those who are here without the right papers – 10, 12 million – to earn their way out of the shadows and become fully part of the United States.

    The blueprint for comprehensive reform is there. We just don’t have the political will to do it. For starters, as I say, every individual can do their part by speaking more respectfully, more decently, not scapegoating people. That will create a context in which we can work together to implement policies that reflect the best of our American values and our Judeo-Christian values.

 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

What’s happening to America?

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP

Several weeks ago, I saw a cartoon singing the praises of the current president.  The items consisted mostly of ways that the rich got richer, the climate got dirtier, and businesses got rewarded (ie more rich got richer).  There is no doubt that the economy has continued to improve under this president. But at what price?

American has the reputation for being a land of milk and honey. A place where someone who works hard can ‘pull himself/herself up by their bootstraps’ and become rich/powerful/famous.  But at what price?

The U.S. has prided itself on having a free press, freedom of speech, academic freedom. The internet and services like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have been invaded by hackers seeking to influence our government and our civility. We have universal, 24-hour communication. But at what price?

The country continues to be governed by rich white men who while some may be concerned about the common good, they still protect their place in society. But at what price?

Many Americans especially young people are aware of their personal and communal impact on our environment while corporations are given a pass to increase pollution. They stand to makes lots of money. But at what price?

When a society becomes a transactional one, that is, one concerned only with buying and selling – making money –  and refuses to recognize the dignity of each person, the price is a loss of our humanity and will be high. Already we see climate disasters around the country…an unraveling working class and their communities … growing homelessness, mental illness, and addiction…even shorter life expectancies. We live in a country where a child is born into poverty every 41 seconds.

The U.S. will only be great again when we become relational and consider the impact of our actions on all our brothers and sisters, especial the least among us.  This includes our Mother Earth.  Only then will we all regain our dignity, reduce our despair, and repair the divide among us.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

How to Make the World a Better Place

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP

Happy New Year! Many of you read yesterday that I am stepping down as the Justice Promoter in a few weeks.  It has been an honor to educate and engage you on our justice issues.  As I look into the coming year and decade, I reflected on how the world could be a little better and here is my list of things how this could happen.  For more information about what is happening in some of these areas, check out the Justice Updates.

  1. The senate would reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Nearly half of women homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by current or former male partners.
  2. The Federal Death Penalty and State Death Penalties in Ohio, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisiana would be abolished.
  3. We would elect more women and persons of color. In a recent interview, President Barack Obama stated, “There would be less war, kids would be better taken care of and there would be a general improvement in living standards and outcomes.” Would that be so!
  4. The government would stop rolling back laws that reduce pollution and improve climate damage and we would all use less energy.
  5. We would improve our listening skills by making an effort to really listen to someone we disagree with.
  6. We would recognize our participation in human trafficking and stop buying items or services provided by slaves.
  7. Our government would use diplomatic and foreign aid to improve the conditions in countries where many asylum seekers come from so they can remain in their countries and raise their children in peace.
  8. More states would enact common sense gun safety legislation.
  9. We would all respect the dignity of life from conception to natural death.
  10. Everyone would be counted!

Richard Rohr urges us to have an incarnational worldview, that is a “profound recognition of the presence of the divine in literally “every thing” and “every one.”” If each of us can adopt this worldview during this year and beyond, we will see the importance of valuing the immigrant and the citizen, the unborn and the born, the earth and her creatures. Consider taking one of the issues above and educating yourself about it and working for its implantation. Then we all will live in a better world.

 

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Labor Trafficking in India

Blog by Sr. Barbara Catalano

During the ‘Dominican Month for Peace 2019’, Fr. Bruno Cadore asked our Dominican brothers and sisters throughout the world to focus our prayers and efforts on the huge and complex country of India. The great need in that country is due to the many forms of violence against young people particularly those at the lowest levels of Indian society.

India is the 2nd most populous country in the world with 1.3 billion people and is often thought of as being impoverished. In reality, it is the 7th wealthiest country and has recently been experiencing an economic boom. Unfortunately, the brunt of this boom is born by the bottom levels of society.

The historic Hindu caste system in India is smeared with brutalities by those higher up on the caste ladder and inflicted on those who are below even the bottom level of the four castes. These are the people who are the ‘out-casts’, the Dalits, or ‘untouchables’. They are made to do jobs such as working with carcasses or cleaning toilets which the casted Hindus consider impure or profane. The Dalits, along with some other socially deprived classes, such as the indigenous, are estimated to make up over half of India’s population. It is the children and women of these that are most at risk.

Child trafficking for both sex and labor is extremely prevalent in India, and continues to grow rapidly as the economy blossoms. According to UNICEF, 12.6 million Indian children are engaged in hazardous occupations in India.  Legally, children in India are allowed to do light work, but they are easily lured into heavy labor and are often worked far beyond what is legally allowed. Poverty and weak law enforcement are the obvious factors.

Children from the rural areas migrate or are trafficked for employment in industries, such as spinning mills, cottonseed production, manual work, domestic work in family homes, stone quarrying, brick kilns and tea gardens. Often they are required to work in dangerous environments. Those forced into such labor essentially become slaves, and lose their childhood.

Children, especially of the Dalits, are often chosen for the illegal activities of begging and forced organ donation.  A significant number of those on the streets have had limbs forcibly amputated, or even acid poured into their eyes to blind them by gang masters. Those who are injured tend to make more money in begging.

The Dominicans in India are focusing on countering the violence they see every day in the deprivation and abuse against children and women particularly among the Dalits and indigenous.  May we assist them with our prayers and preaching and may we seek other forms of support for them both financially and in awareness raising. Then as we note the great fragility of the Child in the crib this Christmas, may we see modeled there millions of His brothers and sisters born into the poverty of India.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Sex Trafficking in India

Blog by Sr. Carol Davis, OP

Dominicans around the world are uniting to shine a light on human trafficking in India where there are more than one million child prostitutes. Girls as young as seven years old are forced into the nightmare of the commercial sex trade. Girls, who should be in school, are being sold, starved, locked up and raped. Being sold into a brothel in India is a death sentence: only one percent escape or are rescued. Poverty, living on the streets and lack of education for women and girls increase the risk of being forced into the commercial sex trade.

Al Jazeera reports an increase in child pornography in India that has become an $8-billion-dollar industry. The US Department of Justice advises that in USA and in all countries: “The continuous production and distribution of child pornography increases the demand for new and more egregious images, perpetuating the continued molestation of child victims, as well as the abuse of new children.” There is no international law to check the data service providers responsible for online child pornography.

Victims suffer loss, disorientation, sorrow, anger, fear, frustration and depression. Sex trafficking survivors experience social discrimination and rejection.  In their own voices, survivors in India said in a confidential study:

“After your honor is gone, nobody will ask about you, not even people in your village.”

“They don’t give respect to girls like me, even to small girls.”

“People should understand us…They should treat us like human beings. Not judging.”

“The world is not safe. I went through suffering. All this happened to me because of no protection. My mother and father, they don’t like me. They left me…To be abandoned was the most difficult thing in my life….All this happened to me because of no protection.”

“So many girls lost their identities, like so many girls lost their families, or so many girls are sold…There should be people who should do work for them…like true love.”

Psalm 146 tells us that our God keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry and sets captives free.  May it be so in India.  Please join us in prayer and share this story with others.  Ask friends, family members, church groups to pray.  See if you can get a prayer intention in your parish mass or church bulletin. A small action on your part is more than a “drop in the bucket”; combined with others it could create a sea of change.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog