Over the past two weeks I have been blogging about what our Catholic Relief Services Global Fellows delegation saw and did while in Greece and Serbia. The mission was enlightening for us because nothing in the media back home really captured a sense of the refugee crisis or the humanitarian response taking place. We heard stories of great bravery and desperation and saw aid and assistance given to people who did not expect it. Each of us have been trying to convey to our fellow countrymen the scope of the situation, who the refugees are, why they are fleeing and the aid being provided. I am humbled by the dedication and youth of many of the aid workers. I am proud to report about the work done by CRS staff to help organize and support the various charitable organizations, including Caritas. I am also somewhat amazed when a fellow American sincerely asks, “Why should Americans care, isn’t this a Middle East and European problem?
Over the next week I want to explain why I believe everyone should care, especially Americans. By ‘care’ I don’t mean adopting a position that advocates stopping the migration or ‘sending them back’ but why we should try to understand the cause for the refugee migration, aid those fleeing and actively work to see an end to the violence so that the refugees can return home in safety. Today is the first of several installments on why we should care and if we do care, how we can help.
The first reason why Americans should care and get involved to aid the refugees is because it is the right thing to do. A very long tradition of Christian and American values point toward the moral imperative of helping those in need without consideration of their nationality, political stance, religion, ethnicity or any other category. So what are the Christian and American perspectives on helping strangers?
From a Christian perspective this is known as solidarity; we are only one human family, all created with the same human dignity in the likeness and image of God. The Christian tradition does not limit assistance to only those we know and agree with, quite the contrary. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) sets forth the Christian response to those in need and tells us who our neighbor is, everyone! The Christian response to suffering is mercy, a striving to bring an end to suffering and to promote the well being of the other person. Jesus gives the Christian no excuse to turn away, not because the person in need speaks a different language, is from a different country or religion, or if we just don’t like them. Humans can always try to find an excuse for not helping others in need, we have a habit of rationalization when we know what is right and just don’t want to do it. Rationalization is easy, but it frequently cloaks something else; like fear, selfishness or even hatred. Those are not Christian values. Christians are constantly called to do the hard thing, to resist inaction and rationalization, to be counter-cultural, to do the completely unexpected, just as God does the unexpected – like saving humankind through the cross of Christ. So, the Christian ethic is to help, to respect the refugees’ decision to flee and to care, to simply act with mercy, to do the unexpected and the holy.
The American perspective is similar and to some degree informed by our Judaeo-Christian heritage. The United States is the most generous country that has ever existed. When people around the world are in need, Americans come swiftly to their aid. Think of the disasters that have occurred in the past few years, the Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and Superstorm Sandy to name a few. When these events have occurred, Americans of all types, races, faiths (or no faiths) have responded decisively and generously to those in need. This isn’t a recent phenomenon. Americans have always stepped up to aid those in need, it seems to be part of our national DNA. There are always voices opposing the giving of assistance, looking toward other interests, but Americans have shown that they are always willing to sacrifice for those in need. We do it not for something in return or to look good in the eyes of the world, but simply because it is right. This help is given when natural disasters occur and also when man made disasters take place (i.e., the Berlin Airlift). So, the American ethic is to help, not to hide behind a false claim of security and letting over a million humans suffer out of the fear a terrorist might try to harm us. That type of cowardice and heartlessness is not the heritage of this great nation. We historically look beyond fear and fear-mongering, and to the plight of others and respond with generosity, usually overwhelming generosity. This is a truly American trait.
You see, our Christian and American values should compel us to have compassion for these refugees and to give them aid and assistance. Whether we are Christian, American or both, I believe we have a responsibility to care and to act. In the next few days I will set forth other reasons to care and help. If you agree or disagree, I welcome your comments and your sharing of this blog with others who may wish to reflect on this crisis and join the conversation.