National Catholic Reporter
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Issue Date:  November 28, 2003

From the Editor's Desk

For the least among us

During this era of the sexual abuse scandal -- made worse by the failure of bishops to account for their role in turning a serious problem into a crisis -- it is easy, and arguably most often justifiable, to speak critically of the “institutional church.”

But if ever there were an argument for working to preserve the institution, it is captured in John L. Allen Jr.’s report from the Rome conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, a total of 20,556,700 migrants, refugees and otherwise displaced persons wander the face of the earth today. That’s a little more than two-thirds of the population of California, our most populous state. As the United Nations breaks it down, that includes 10,389,700 refugees; 1,014,400 asylum seekers; 2,425,000 returned refugees who still need help rebuilding their lives; 5,777,200 internally displaced people; and 950,800 who would fit under other categories.

We who benefit from fairly secure societies can’t begin to imagine the pure terror of trying to escape from dictatorship or economic deprivation only to be turned back at a border or made to live anonymously, often subsisting on slave wages in desperate circumstances.

These are the least among us, and setting up barriers to their movement is becoming increasingly easy in a world where fear of terrorism fuels a growing fear of the stranger.

So it was countercultural, in the best sense of the Gospel, when 300 people representing more than 100 nations gathered in Rome to advocate for the interests of the unknown millions wandering the globe in search of refuge.

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington urged Pope John Paul II to issue an encyclical on the matter of migrants and refugees. He found considerable support among brother bishops and cardinals. The significance of such a letter would be to bring the force of the global church in a unique way to the discussion.

No other organization on earth has the reach of the universal church, or the intimate understanding of how and why people become refugees and how displacement across and within borders ravages lives and destroys cultures.

Nor does any other organization understand as well -- because of its wide and compassionate contact with the disenfranchised and displaced -- the richness that refugees can infuse into the lives of those who receive them.

~ ~ ~

More from readers on hope, this from Jim Dette of Weehawken, N.J.:

“Thomas Merton was asked: ‘Is Advent hope or delusion?’ I like his response: ‘The certainty of Christian hope lies beyond passion and beyond knowledge. Therefore we must sometimes expect our hope to come in conflict with darkness, desperation and ignorance. Therefore, too, we must remember that Christian optimism is not a perpetual sense of euphoria, an indefectible comfort in whose presence neither anguish nor tragedy can possibly exist. We must not strive to maintain a climate of optimism by the mere suppression of tragic realities. Christian optimism lies in a hope of victory that transcends all tragedy: a victory in which we pass beyond tragedy to glory with Christ crucified and risen’ (from Seasons of Celebration).”

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, November 28, 2003

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