U.S. bishops are urging Americans to hold firm to the Christian principle of welcoming the stranger in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Paris and California linked to the Islamic State (ISIS).
“Watching innocent lives taken and wondering whether the violence will reach our own families rightly stirs our deepest protective emotions. We must resist the hatred and suspicion that leads to policies of discrimination,” Kurtz said in a statement. “Instead, we must channel our emotions of concern and protection, born in love, into a vibrant witness to the dignity of every person. We should employ immigration laws that are humane and keep us safe, but should never target specific classes of persons based on religion.”
ISIS claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 mass shooting and suicide bombs in Paris that killed 130 people at a stadium, a concert hall, cafes and restaurants. One of the terrorists reportedly posed as a Syrian refugee. The married couple responsible for the Dec. 2 mass shooting at a San Bernardino County Public Health Department event that killed 14 people reportedly were followers of Sunni Islam. They were killed in a shootout with police after trying to flee the scene of the attack.
After the Paris attacks, at least 31 governors in the United States opposed, refused or suspended the acceptance of new Syrian refugees within state borders. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, on Nov. 16 announced the state “will temporarily suspend accepting new Syrian refugees and consider all of our legal options pending a full review of our country’s acceptance and security processes by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.”
Under the Refugee Act of 1980, the authority for admitting refugees is granted to the president, but states are relied upon to supply support in the form of housing, medical and other assistance. Advocates say the law does not give states the ability to turn away refugees, although Rauner's office argues federal law does provide the state an ability to "evaluate and revise the extent of their involvement in these programs at any time."
The number of Syrian refugees in Illinois is small. According to the U.S. State Department, 169 Syrian refugees have relocated to Illinois since 2010, with the majority — 131 — moving here within the past year.
Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago on Nov. 20 wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, reminding readers “These are our neighbors. They look to our nation, a city on a hill. They look to our cities, cities such as Chicago, which have been made stronger not in spite of our diversity — but precisely because of it.”
Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Joliet on Dec. 10 added his voice by issuing a statement that noted the absurdity of political statements calling for the outright banning of refugees in the United States.
“Aside from being an obvious affront to the values of a nation founded on the principles of religious liberty, this is contrary to Catholic social doctrine. I join my brother bishops and other religious leaders around the United States in denouncing any such rhetoric or attitudes which can only stir hate, promote fear or prevent us from honoring our neighbors from other countries, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.”
Archbishop Kurtz asked Americans to avoid fueling fears of extremism.
“When we fail to see the difference between our enemies and people of good will, we lose a part of who we are as people of faith. Policies of fear and inflammatory rhetoric will only offer extremists fertile soil and pave the way toward a divisive, fearful future,” Kurtz stated. “As Pope Francis reminded us in his speech to Congress: ‘The yardstick by which we measure others is the yardstick by which time will measure us.’”
He reiterated support for refugees.
“Confident in what Jesus asks of us, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops remains steadfast in our commitment to refugees, who are often escaping severe persecution,” he stated, adding later, “And we will advocate on behalf of people facing religious discrimination, including our Muslim brothers and sisters.
“Let us confront the extremist threat with courage and compassion, recognizing that Christianity, Islam, Judaism and many other religions are united in opposition to violence carried out in their name.”
The Syrian refugee crisis stems from a complex conflict.
Civil war broke out in Syria in 2011 when pro-democracy forces protested against the totalitarian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Jihadist groups, including ISIS, soon joined in the fighting. So far, nearly 250,000 people have died and 4 million people have fled Syria, according to the United Nations. An additional 7.6 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes but are still residing in the country.
Most of the refugees – primarily women and children – initially fled to nearby Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, but soon traveled to European nations. President Barack Obama in September attempted to help curb the surge of refugees by setting a goal of allowing 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. in fiscal year 2016.
The USCCB’s Refugee Resettlement Program has settled some refugees from Syria in conjunction with local Catholic Charities. However, the vetting process is extensive, leaving most refugees to wait at least two years until they are approved to come to the United States.