In a world that has become considerably smaller because of globalization and social media, the small gesture can have a major impact. Next month, on September 27, Pope Francis has invited his brother bishops but also all Catholics and other people of good will to join in a global campaign made up of small gestures of solidarity to draw attention to the plight of the more than 65 million refugees and migrants in our world today. These 65 million men, women and children represent the greatest number of displaced persons since the end of World War II.
The campaign is simply called “Share the Journey” in which Catholics are asked to give a visible demonstration of support for refugees and migrants. The U.S. bishops in support of Pope Francis’ initiative and in collaboration with Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services have also designated the week of October 7-13 a “week of prayer and action” in order to promote a culture of encounter to counter the culture of indifference.
It is disappointing that our country which has had a long history of providing “safe harbor” to refugees and asylum seekers has announced steep reductions in refugee admissions (to less than 50,000 per year). Equally disappointing is that for almost two decades, efforts to reform a broken immigration system have been stymied in Congress.
Harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric has poisoned our national discourse and has incited irrational fears of the “stranger.” A recent bill proposed in the Senate and supported by the Administration would cut legal immigration by 50 percent. The National Immigration Forum estimates that the country is already facing a work force gap of 7.5 million jobs by 2020. Cutting legal immigration for the sake of cutting immigration would cause irreparable harm to the American worker and their family. The only countries growing economically are countries that welcome immigrants. In spite of considerable cultural and economic anxiety about immigration, immigrants are crucial to the growth of the economy. This includes not only immigrant doctors, scientists and investment bankers but also those immigrants that take up what are called “entry level” jobs in agriculture, service and hospitality industries. With record low unemployment, jobs are left unfilled. With illegal entry down by 75 percent, now is time to address comprehensive immigration reform.
But, immigration has become a “wedge issue” in our politics leading to the suspicion that lawmakers don’t really want to fix what everyone admits to being a broken system. The status quo allows politicians on both the left and the right to appeal to their bases and solicit funds from them – while some 11 million irregular immigrants live in fear and despair and thousands who could have been resettled in the U.S. languish in refugee camps.
While the “Share the Journey” campaign begins on September 27, again with Pope Francis showing support and solidarity to the migrant with a simple gesture, it will last till September 2019 and aims to shape conversations and actions to answer the Gospel call to love one’s neighbor. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
The stridency and polarization of politics in America today can be discouraging. 24 hour cable “news” cycles have made “politics” another form of entertainment as “real” as professional wrestling. Nevertheless, all of us are called to become informed, active and responsible participants in the political process – and to do so by bringing together, coherently and consistently, our faith, our moral convictions and our responsibilities in the public square.
“Share the journey” invites us to see through the eyes of others rather than turning a blind eye.
As Pope Francis says, “Not just to see but to look. Not just to hear but to listen. Not just to meet and pass by, but to stop. And don’t just say ‘what a shame, poor people,’ but allow ourselves to be moved by pity.”