[Austen Ivereigh] Catholic bishops have joined leaders across the faith spectrum in the United States in deploring President Donald Trump’s executive order Friday that halted the entire U.S. refugee program and banned all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days.
Shortly after Trump signed the document at the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who is chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, said the bishops “strongly disagree” with the action to halt refugee resettlement.
“We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope,” Bishop Vasquez said.
The USCCB runs the largest refugee resettlement program in the United States, and Bishop Vasquez said the church would continue to engage the administration, as it had with administrations for 40 years.
In a letter to the president and members of Congress, more than 2,000 religious leaders representing the Interfaith Immigration Coalition objected to the action.
Although the justification for the order was security, an analysis by the Cato Institute of terrorist attacks on US soil between 1975 and 2015 found that none of them were committed by nationals of the countries banned: Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Iran. The nation that supplied most of the September 11 killers, Saudi Arabia, was unaffected.
The order, which came into effect over the weekend, reduces the number of refugees to be admitted to the United States this year from 110,000 to 50,000 individuals, and will particularly affect the resettlement of refugees fleeing the five-year-old war in Syria. (Syrian refugees will be banned indefinitely, beyond the 90 days applied to the seven countries).
As the news bulletins were dominated by chaos at airports, protests in cities across the U.S. and a mounting pile of legal challenges, Trump sacked the acting attorney general of the United States after she publicly questioned the constitutionality of the ban.
The leadership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops yesterday praised fellow bishops for speaking out against Trump’s actions and “in defense of God’s people,” and called on “all the Catholic faithful to join us as we unite our voices with all who speak in defense of human dignity.”
“The bond between Christians and Muslims is founded on the unbreakable strength of charity and justice,” said Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, in a joint statement (reproduced below.)
“The Church will not waiver in her defense of our sisters and brothers of all faiths who suffer at the hands of merciless persecutors,” they said.
Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago said last weekend was “a dark moment in U.S. history”. The executive order “to close our nation to those, particularly Muslims, fleeing violence, oppression and persecution is contrary to both Catholic and American values.” He added:
These actions impose a sweeping and immediate halt on migrants and refugees from several countries, people who are suffering, fleeing for their lives. Their design and implementation have been rushed, chaotic, cruel and oblivious to the realities that will produce enduring security for the United States. They have left people holding valid visas and other proper documents detained in our airports, sent back to the places some were fleeing or not allowed to board planes headed here. Only at the eleventh hour did a federal judge intervene to suspend this unjust action.
The cardinal quoted Pope Francis’ remarks to the US Congress in 2015: “If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.”
He said Pope Francis “followed with a warning that should haunt us as we come to terms with the events of the weekend: ‘The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.'”
Bishop Vásquez said: “we need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity. We believe that by helping to resettle the most vulnerable, we are living out our Christian faith as Jesus has challenged us to do.”
The Archbishop of Newark, Cardinal Joseph Tobin, said the measures “are the opposite of what it means to be an American”, adding that “closing borders and building walls are not rational acts. Mass detentions and wholesale deportation benefit no one; such inhuman policies destroy families and communities.”
Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego said the executive action was “the introduction into law of campaign sloganeering rooted in xenophobia and religious prejudice. Its devastating consequences are already apparent for those suffering most in our world, for our standing among nations, and for the imperative of rebuilding unity within our country rather than tearing us further apart.”
“This week the Statue of Liberty lowered its torch in a presidential action which repudiates our national heritage and ignores the reality that Our Lord and the Holy Family were themselves Middle Eastern refugees fleeing government oppression. We cannot and will not stand silent,” Bishop McElroy said in a statement on 29 January.
Statement by president and vice-president of US Catholic bishops’ confererence (USCCB), Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston and Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles:
Over the past several days, many brother bishops have spoken out in defense of God’s people. We are grateful for their witness. Now, we call upon all the Catholic faithful to join us as we unite our voices with all who speak in defense of human dignity.
The bond between Christians and Muslims is founded on the unbreakable strength of charity and justice. The Second Vatican Council in Nostra Aetate urged us to sincerely work toward a mutual understanding that would “promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.” The Church will not waiver in her defense of our sisters and brothers of all faiths who suffer at the hands of merciless persecutors.
The refugees fleeing from ISIS and other extremists are sacrificing all they have in the name of peace and freedom. Often, they could be spared if only they surrendered to the violent vision of their tormentors. They stand firm in their faith. Many are families, no different from yours or mine, seeking safety and security for their children. Our nation should welcome them as allies in a common fight against evil. We must screen vigilantly for infiltrators who would do us harm, but we must always be equally vigilant in our welcome of friends.
The Lord Jesus fled the tyranny of Herod, was falsely accused and then deserted by his friends. He had nowhere to lay His head (Lk. 9:58). Welcoming the stranger and those in flight is not one option among many in the Christian life. It is the very form of Christianity itself. Our actions must remind people of Jesus. The actions of our government must remind people of basic humanity. Where our brothers and sisters suffer rejection and abandonment we will lift our voice on their behalf. We will welcome them and receive them. They are Jesus and the Church will not turn away from Him.
Our desire is not to enter the political arena, but rather to proclaim Christ alive in the world today. In the very moment a family abandons their home under threat of death, Jesus is present. And He says to each of us, “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (MT 25:40).