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November 19, 2017
How the US Church is 'sharing the journey' with immigrants
Credit: Ryan Rodrick Beiler via Shutterstock.
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.- Catholic leaders in the U.S. are hoping that the newly announced “Share the Journey” campaign will foster a welcoming attitude towards migrants and refugees.

“It’s an important time to remind ourselves that welcoming the stranger, being a good neighbor, doing whatever we can for the least among us, that this is our duty as Christians, to accept, not reject,” Bill Canny, executive director of Migration and Refugee Services at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told CNA. 

The international Catholic aid confederation Caritas Internationalis initiated the “Share the Journey” campaign on Sept. 27. In Pope Francis’ weekly general audience on Wednesday morning, he spoke of the virtue of hope, exhorting the audience to share in the journey of migrants and others. “We are not afraid to share the trip! We are not afraid! We are not afraid to share hope!” he said. 

Caritas launched the campaign as the number of forcibly displaced persons is at its highest level recorded, at more than 65 million worldwide. In 2016, there were more than 22 million refugees leaving one country for another.

Thus, the “Share the Journey” initiative invites Catholics to “encounter” the migrant and refugee, by hearing their stories. It aims to help put the Gospel into practice, fulfilling the words of Christ, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”

In the U.S., the bishops’ conference as well as Caritas organizations like Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA are all promoting the campaign as a way for the faithful to pray for migrants and refugees and make concrete acts to help them. The website for the U.S. campaign is ShareJourney.org.

The initiative will actually be a “sustained effort” over about 18 months, Jean Beil of Catholic Charities USA told CNA. The week of Oct. 7-13 has already been designated as a “week of prayer and action” for migrants and refugees.

Local Catholic Charities affiliates have been “very enthusiastic” at the outset, she said. 

The ultimate goal of the initiative is two-fold. First, Caritas and its members hope to “awaken in countries that are usually ‘sending countries’ where migrants are leaving, the idea that everyone should have a right to make a livelihood in their own land, to live in peace and security.”

However, beyond that, she said, the initiative emphasizes “that everyone has a right, if they need to migrate, to try to move to somewhere where they can provide for their family the peace and security that they need in order to live with dignity and respect” and “to keep their family together to live with dignity.”

Among the actions that can be taken by Catholics under the initiative are prayer, welcoming newly-arrived migrants and refugees into the local parish and community, and assisting local Catholic Charities and Caritas organizations in serving immigrants. 

“The Holy Father hopes to unite all of us across the world as one family of God, to support our brothers and sisters who have fled their homes seeking a safe and decent life for their families,” Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said in a statement on Wednesday. 

“Share the Journey” will also challenge American Catholics to overcome prejudices and polarization, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami stated in an op-ed on Aug. 30. 

“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,” Archbishop Wenski wrote. 

“‘Share the journey’ invites us to see through the eyes of others rather than turning a blind eye,” he wrote. 

Dioceses have already begun putting the campaign into practice. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has announced “DACA renewal workshops” which will help immigrants who would have benefitted from the program.

DACA, the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” was a program begun by the Obama administration to stay the deportation of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 by their parents, who had lived in the U.S. for more than five years, were of a certain age, and who had no criminal record. 

The Trump administration recently announced the phasing-out of the DACA program, affecting around 800,000 immigrants who would have benefitted from the program. 

In light of this development, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is hosting workshops at parishes in the diocese to help immigrants benefitting from DACA apply for an extension of their stay in the U.S. by the Oct. 5 deadline. 

“Here in the United States, millions of immigrants have been living in the shadows because of a broken immigration system,” Archbishop Gomez said. “We will begin the ‘Share the Journey’ campaign in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles by offering a series of workshops to help process extensions for those who qualify for DACA renewal.” 

Catholics can also advocate for policies that help migrants under the initiative, Canny said. They can ask their representatives in Congress to “at least maintain and expand international humanitarian assistance” to help resettle displaced persons back home and cut down on the number of refugees.  

The initiative also comes as the Trump administration is reportedly planning to lower the number of refugees the U.S. accepts even further. 

Originally, the Obama administration set a goal of 110,000 refugees that the U.S. would accept in the 2017 fiscal year, but President Donald Trump, in his executive order on immigration, ordered a four-month shutdown of the refugee resettlement program to investigate its security. He capped the total number of refugees at 50,000 for FY 2017.

Now, Axios reports that, according to sources within the Trump administration, the number could be lowered to 40,000 or 45,000 in FY 2018. The U.S. bishops’ conference has called on the administration to accept 75,000 refugees in the upcoming fiscal year. 

Canny hoped that, amidst increasing polarization and hostility towards immigrants, the “Share the Journey” campaign would hopefully “check these tendencies” and “contribute to the national debate that’s been shaped by politics, a national debate on immigration and welcoming refugees.”