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Faith groups care for refugees in ways governments can’t, group tells U.N.

04 May 2018 – By Beth Griffin, Catholic News Service

UNITED NATIONS (CNS) — Faith-based organizations are uniquely able to care for migrants and refugees because they employ a holistic, person-centered approach that respects the human dignity of each individual, and they have established networks throughout the world, according to panelists at a 3 May United Nations event.

Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, said faith-based organizations provide “much of the infrastructure for immediate and long-term hospitality and accommodation, defend the rights and dignity of refugees and migrants independent of legal status, ensure through education, professional and social inclusion that they are able to achieve their potential as human beings, and enrich them and the societies that embrace them through the exchange of talents and culture.”

They are unique in their reach and presence at all points of the migratory journey, often filling gaps in services to migrants that governments and other civil society groups are incapable or unwilling to fill on their own, he said.

Archbishop Auza said six of the nine agencies that assist the U.S. State Department in resettling refugees in 190 communities throughout the U.S. are faith-based organizations. They are motivated by faith but granted resettlement responsibilities by the government because of their proven effectiveness, he said.

Speakers at the interreligious event described shared religious and ethical beliefs that inspire faith-based organizations to champion the rights of migrants and encourage good behavior by displaced people and the communities that host them. They pointed to the experiences of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and the prophet Muhammad as examples of forced migration.

“Migration is about human persons,” said Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila and president of Caritas Internationalis.

“I have observed that some people who are afraid of migrants or refugees have had very little personal encounter with them. They do not even know the people they fear. By meeting them, touching their wounds, listening to their stories and dreams, we might see ourselves in them. They are not strangers. They could be me, my parents, my brothers and sisters, my friend,” he said.

Cardinal Tagle described his Chinese grandfather’s migration to the Philippines as a child. “I have migrant DNA. I am sure you do too,” he said.

Pope Francis has called “for a culture of personal encounter with migrants, refugees and people excluded by contemporary society,” Cardinal Tagle said. They should be offered safety, welcome, protection, promotion of their integral human development, and integration into society, according to Pope Francis’s guiding principles, he said.

Rabbi David Rosen, director of the American Jewish Committee, said the Bible specifically commands people “to love and empathize with others who seek to dwell within our community.” Although societies have a duty to protect their own citizens, they must also enable safe and secure passage for those on the move and ensure a decent living and social conditions for refugees and migrants, he said.

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