Missouri bishops urge acceptance of Syrian refugees

Georgi Licovski | Catholic News Service/EPA
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The Catholic bishops of Missouri are urging Gov. Jay Nixon and all public officials to work with federal officials to keep citizens safe and to allow refugees from war-torn Syria to settle in the state.

In a statement issued through the Missouri Catholic Conference, the bishops joined others from the religious community in the United States countering calls to halt resettlement of the refugees following recent terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere. Jewish, Muslim and Christian groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals, issued similar calls to accept these refugees while balancing national security needs.

"The challenge is to weigh security concerns with our American tradition of welcoming immigrants and refugees, as symbolized by the iconic Statute of Liberty," the bishops stated. "In our view, appropriate security measures have been taken and our country should not refuse to welcome Syrian refugees who have been through the vetting process."

The bishops expressed solidarity with "all those terrorized by ISIS and other violent extremists who falsely invoke the name of God to justify their bloody attacks on innocent people. Our concern especially goes out to the French people as they cope in the aftermath of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks and to the many Syrians also terrorized by ISIS who are fleeing their country for the safety of new lands."

Legitimate concerns have been raised that Daesh, another name for ISIS, is inserting terrorists into the ranks of refugees coming to Europe and America from Syria, the bishops noted. "It is only natural that Americans wonder whether they can be safe from terrorist attacks and whether allowing Syrian refugees into our country will raise the threat of those attacks. As a nation of immigrants, Americans understand our country has a proud tradition of accepting immigrants and refugees, but we also want to be safe and secure."

In this time of increased anxiety, the bishops stated, it is especially important to understand that the Syrian refugees go through multiple layers of interviews and security checks, "making them the most thoroughly vetted group of people who come to the United States. Security screenings are rigorous and involve the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defense and multiple intelligence agencies. It can take up to two years for a refugee to pass through this vetting process."

Archbishop Robert C. Carlson said Nov. 21 at the annual Pastoral Assembly in Shrewsbury that "we do have to be cautious," but if the government follows its protocols, safety will be assured. He urged people to ask elected officials to demand that the protocols are followed and to refuse to give into fear. "We have to be unwilling to allow them to control us and to stop us from doing what is right," he said.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet issued a statement urging a response with love and mercy. They stated that they are heartbroken and outraged by recent violence in places such as Paris, Beirut, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. But they added, "We urge people around the world and their governments to embrace the refugees fleeing violence and hatred and welcome them into the sanctuary of our countries. Syrian refugees, fleeing a brutal civil war, are themselves victims of ISIS."

Preventing future attacks is "of utmost importance," but refusing deserving, carefully-vetted Syrian refugees isn't the answer, the community of women religious stated.

Among other voices on the issue is the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum which stated that its concern about the current refugee crisis flows from an awareness of the consequences to Jews unable to flee Nazism. "While recognizing that security concerns must be fully addressed, we should not turn our backs on the thousands of legitimate refugees," the museum statement noted.

The museum officials called on public figures and citizens to avoid condemning today's refugees as a group. "It is important to remember that many are fleeing because they have been targeted by the Assad regime and ISIS for persecution and in some cases elimination on the basis of their identity," noted the statement from the organization that among other things seeks to confront hatred, prevent genocide and promote human dignity.

In a news release, Leith Anderson, the evangelical association president, said that "of course we want to keep terrorists out of our country, but let's not punish the victims of ISIS for the sins of ISIS." 

Golden Rule

"Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. Let us remember the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" (Matthew 7:12).

Pope Francis in his address to Congress on Sept. 24 

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