#FriarFriday – Refugees vs. Migrants

#FriarFriday – Refugees vs. Migrants

As spiritual assistant of a local fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order, I responded to a quite racist post by a member of the fraternity about those who wish to cross our southern border. I responded by providing the members of the fraternity with the statements from the US bishops about migrants and refugees.

A member of the fraternity responded, “I feel like arguing with him!!! Open borders are creating the crisis. Attracting families to come!!!!! Should I say that to him?”To which, I responded:

Refugees vs. Migrants

I would respond by saying that refugees are different from migrants, and it’s important to know the difference. Migration at the southern border is at an all-time low. Refugees fleeing violence in their countries are the people clogging the border crossings!

Refugees have human rights internationally. These rights are among those enumerated in numerous international treaties. All countries are constitutionally obligated to accept refugees. The U.S. bishops remind us that we are also morally obligated to accept them. I’d have to say that, for me, accepting refugees seems to also be in line with Gospel values.

It is, of course, important to distinguish between true refugees and those just trying to get into the country any way they can. Under the current conditions, it is clear that most people presenting themselves at the southern border are women and children fleeing violence in their countries. This makes them true refugees deserving of human right protections.

So, what can we do to stem the tide of refugees at our borders? The most critical thing, in my opinion, is to build up their countries at home. We’ve been deporting gang members for some time now, as we should, but without any concern for what they’ll do back in their home countries. The effect has been outright lawlessness and people taking their children and fleeing the chaos which has now enveloped their countries. Instead of threatening to withhold foreign aid, that aid is the key to restoring law enforcement to these countries which have become, in effect, failed states with no ability to effectively police their own cities.

I agree that there is a crisis at the border, but it seems to be not a crisis of “open borders” but rather a crisis for an unprepared nation having problems dealing with the refugees presenting themselves at the border or to agents once they’ve crossed. As much as we’d like to think that there’s a simple solution, such as a wall, the problem in Central America has been building for some time now, and there are no easy solutions. In the short term, we need to beef up our refugee processing, and — in the longer term — work at improving living conditions in Honduras, Guatemala, etc. in order to address the root problem.

Church Teachings

What does the Church teach about refugees?

Catechism #1911 Human interdependence is increasing and gradually spreading throughout the world. The unity of the human family, embracing people who enjoy equal natural dignity, implies a universal common good. This good calls for an organization of the community of nations able to “provide for the different needs of men; this will involve the sphere of social life to which belong questions of food, hygiene, education, . . . and certain situations arising here and there, as for example . . . alleviating the miseries of refugees dispersed throughout the world, and assisting migrants and their families.”

Catechism #2241 The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.

US Bishops, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship The Gospel mandate to “welcome the stranger” requires Catholics to care for and stand with newcomers, authorized and unauthorized, including unaccompanied immigrant children, refugees and asylum-seekers, those unnecessarily detained, and victims of human trafficking. Comprehensive reform is urgently necessary to fix a broken immigration system and should include a broad and fair legalization program with a path to citizenship; a work program with worker protections and just wages; family reunification policies; access to legal protections, which include due process procedures; refuge for those fleeing persecution and violence; and policies to address the root causes of migration. The right and responsibility of nations to control their borders and to maintain the rule of law should be recognized but pursued in a just and humane manner. The detention of immigrants should be used to protect public safety and not for purposes of deterrence or punishment; alternatives to detention, including community-based programs, should be emphasized.

Inability to Accept

Now, what do we do if we find ourselves to be in disagreement with the teachings of the Catholic Church?

I think that the Church was quite wise to print the text of the catechism in different size fonts. The largest font is reserved for dogmas (e.g., “Jesus is the Son of God”) and smaller and smaller type is used for the application of these dogmas.

One could say, “I’m with the bishops on everything except the death penalty” or “I’m with the Church on everything except accepting refugees.” These are disagreements with the teachings of the Church and not with the underlying dogma.

One would hope that, in time, with prayer and reflection, one would confirm their conscience to the teachings of the Church, but it is the human condition that occasionally we fall short. It’s why we find Catholics who are actively involved with the application of the death penalty, who work with nuclear weapons, who are pro-choice, who want to refuse safety to refugees, etc. These Catholics can accept the dogmas of the Church but find it difficult to accept fully the application of that dogma, as taught by the Church.

The Church has always taught that the conscience is supreme. Catechism #1782 tells us “Man (sic) has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. ‘He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience (emphasis added). Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.'” (You can see more of what the Catechism has to say about conscience here.)

The Church does say that we are obliged to correctly form our consciences, but more than anything we are obliged to follow it. If one sincerely feels in their conscience that it is wrong to assist the refugees at the border or to deny them the safety of our country, then they are obliged to follow their conscience regardless of what the bishops teach about it.

#FriarFriday – Dignity for Los Desconocidos

#FriarFriday – Dignity for Los Desconocidos

HEREFORD, Arizona—The desert is a harsh place. Without warning, dry gullies can turn into raging currents after a rainstorm, even a rainstorm miles away.

Just last August. Bulmaro Garcia Guerrero moved through the desert seeking a better life. He moved stealthily, trying to avoid the border patrol, with their dogs and heat-seeking sensors. He moved quickly up the dry gully, stopping to listen to make sure the way was safe. Then, he heard what sounded at first like a good thing in the desert: water! But the noise kept getting louder. He turned to run and tried to climb out of the side of the gully when the waters reached him. Bulmaro was 32 years old when he drowned.

Despite a decrease in migrant crossings and Border Patrol apprehensions on the southern border, the number of bodies recovered from the desert remains high. Bulmaro was one of over 6000 men, women, and children who have lost their lives crossing the US-Mexico border in the 18 years of this century.

On August 19, a group of Franciscan friars, School Sisters of Notre Dame, and like-minded lay people from around the Arizona border town of Douglas, gathered to “plant a cross” near the spot where Bulmaro drown. The group did this, as they have so many times before, to ensure that those dying in the desert are remembered, not as cold statistics, but rather as the people they were.

In a ceremony composed of a mixture of Christian and indigenous religious customs, the group commemorated Bulmaro’s life and tragic death. They prayed for his family and those who miss him. They prayed for the hundreds who will die similarly lonely deaths this year. Before leaving, the group left gifts and mementos on the cross.

“The severe and unforgiving land here is responsible for the majority of these deaths. Most die from exposure, which includes heat stroke, dehydration, and hypothermia,” said volunteer Karen Fasimpaur. “Crossings are happening in more rural and rugged areas. We’ve done cross-plantings in every corner of the county.”

Additional Resources


Revitalizing the Franciscan presence in Canada — Strength in numbers!

Revitalizing the Franciscan presence in Canada — Strength in numbers!

MONTREAL, Quebec – The OFM Franciscan provinces of St. Joseph (Eastern Canada) and Christ the King (Western Canada) are pleased to announce their upcoming union. This union will mark the end of a process begun several years ago.

​​You are invited to the public celebration, which will mark this amalgamation:

Monday, October 22, 2018, at 7 p.m.
St. Albert Church
7 St. Vital Avenue
St. Albert, Alberta

​This historical union will merge the two Canadian Franciscan provinces into one entity facing a future that is rich with promise.

During this Liturgy of the Word, the name of the new provincial minister of the province will be announced. The new logo representing the new entity will also be unveiled at that time.

Following the union of the two Canadian Franciscan provinces, the new province will include 87 Franciscan brothers from the ages of 32 to 97.

Currently, Canadian Franciscans are present in Quebec (Montreal, Lachute, Trois-Rivières), British Columbia (Vancouver and Victoria) and Alberta (Edmonton and Cochrane).

The main characteristics of Franciscans are devotion and humility as they live their vows of chastity, obedience and having nothing of their own. The work of the Canadian brothers includes ministry with the poor and the homeless, support work in the area of addictions, parish ministry, retreats, high school chaplaincy, university teaching, and spiritual accompaniment with Secular Franciscans.

“As Canadian Franciscans, we must rebuild our structures for the evangelization of the world of tomorrow. We must draw our inspiration from St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis and God himself,” said Friar Jean-Pierre Ducharme OFM, a member of the transition committee.

New US Franciscans YouTube Channel

New US Franciscans YouTube Channel

US Franciscans has a new YouTube channel!

Our first video is online. It is a video of our five novices taking their first vows as Franciscan friars. More videos are on their way.

So, visit the channel at http://usfran.us/youtube, subscribe to the channel and then enable notifications to be informed everytime a new video is made available.


#FriarFriday – A Personal Story of Racism

#FriarFriday – A Personal Story of Racism

We moved a lot when I was a child. I was born in Boston, but we quickly moved to Marblehead, Mass. When I was three, we moved to Santa Barbara, Calif., and when I was six we moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. Looking back on my life, I was incredibly fortunate to have been in an environment of a mixture of diverse peoples that is Hawaii at such a formative age.

I do remember moving to Virginia when I was nine-years-old and being confused by the antipathy shown to African-Americans there.

The Northern Virginia to which we moved in 1963 had raw, blatant, state-sponsored discrimination. It was still against the law for whites and blacks to marry one another! (The supreme court case which forever ended anti-miscegenation laws, Loving v. Virginia, wasn’t handed down until 1967.)

Childhood can be a confusing time. Those who attended grade school in the states will recall the confusing taunt of “You’ve got cooties.” We didn’t have any idea about what cooties were, but we knew that we didn’t want them.

In my grade school, I remember a similar taunt, “You’re a n*igger lover.” I can remember being as confused with this taunt as I was with the cooties one. As an adult, I now know that racism has to be learned. This taunt was simply how racism was being taught to and reinforced among the young, the next would-be generation of racists.

Racism is a sin, as the US bishops wrote in their pastoral letter, Brothers and Sisters to Us, in 1979:

Racism is a sin: a sin that divides the human family, blots out the image of God among specific members of that family, and violates the fundamental human dignity of those called to be children of the same Father. Racism is the sin that says some human beings are inherently superior and others essentially inferior because of races. It is the sin that makes racial characteristics the determining factor for the exercise of human rights. It mocks the words of Jesus: “Treat others the way you would have them treat you.” Indeed, racism is more than a disregard for the words of Jesus; it is a denial of the truth of the dignity of each human being revealed by the mystery of the Incarnation.

Unfortunately, almost 40 years later, we haven’t moved very far. The march in Charlottesville, the flood of YouTube videos showing the oppression in which people of color suffer daily, the remarks by the president about “sh*thole countries,” the exclusion of people from Muslim countries (recalling the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act), the suffering inflicted upon those fleeing violence and seeking asylum are all reminders that America’s original sin, racism, is still alive and growing stronger.

I urge you to reflect on how the bishops ended of their pastoral letter:

There must be no turning back along the road of justice, no sighing for bygone times of privilege, no nostalgia for simple solutions from another age. For we are children of the age to come, when the first shall be last and the last shall be first, when blessed are they who serve Christ the Lord in all His brothers and sisters, especially those who are poor and suffer injustice.

And, finally, just because we need to laugh, a Friday piece of humor:

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