Archbishop Cupich: We know the refugees. They are us

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Syrian refugees arrive aboard a dinghy after crossing from Turkey to the island of Lesbos, Greece. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

The evil visited upon Paris by Islamic State terrorists will never be fully understood. One hundred thirty innocent people lost their lives, and hundreds more were wounded. Today, their families languish in unspeakable suffering, as do the families of the 43 men and women who were also murdered by an ISIS suicide bomber in Beirut a few days earlier.

The entire world stands with the victims of these atrocities. We cannot know the pain of their loved ones. We can only pray for their healing, and that they may be comforted by God’s grace.


Still, even as we decry these heinous acts, we must guard against the temptation to give in to the fear and the panic that terrorists groups such as ISIS seek to sow. In the days since Paris, some Americans have called for us to break our promise to the global community that we would help resettle just 10,000 of the 4 million Syrian refugees who have had no choice but to flee their homes. These are mostly women and children who have risked their lives to escape unimaginable terror and persecution in the Syrian civil war and at the hands of the Islamic State.

Critics worry that some of these refugees might be ISIS agents. While the sincerity of their concern cannot be called into question, we must do our best to separate facts from fear — particularly when it could mean closing our door on thousands of innocent people who are running for their lives. America should not give ISIS the victory it wants.

Here are the facts. If you want to enter the United States, doing so as a refugee is already the longest, most difficult process that exists. The security screening process for refugees is more stringent than the process for foreign tourists, students, businesspeople or anyone else. It takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months or longer, and involves the FBI, Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Defense Department and the State Department. Your biometric data is checked against law-enforcement databases. You must pass a battery of interviews. And if you’re from Syria, the process is even more rigorous.

The United States has already found room for the nearly 800,000 refugees who have resettled here since 9/11. And since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, the United States has accepted about 2,000 Syrians. Over the entire period of refugee settlement since 2001, our security apparatus has kept us safe. Why, then, should we turn away people who pass such a rigorous process? How can we look the other way, as they huddle with their children in foreign lands with barely any shelter, clothing or food?

We must not. These are our neighbors. They look to our nation, a city on a hill. They look to our cities, cities such as Chicago, which have been made stronger not in spite of our diversity — but precisely because of it. What would our community be without our Latino brothers and sisters, our Polish brothers and sisters, our Irish, Italian, German, Greek, Scandinavian, Filipino, Chinese and Korean brothers and sisters? Out of many, we are one. That’s America. How many of us come from families who endured countless struggles to make a better life for their children and grandchildren? We, too, are refugees.

Catholics value our tradition of welcoming the stranger. We know what it is like to be strangers, unwelcome in this land. In 1855, for example, Chicago elected an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic mayor. Near the end of the 19th century, some Chicagoans joined groups such as the American Protective Association, a secret society whose members promised never to hire Catholics who simply wanted to feed their families. This is our history, but it need not repeat itself.

On the very first trip of his papacy, Pope Francis visited refugees on the tiny island of Lampedusa, off the coast of Sicily. He spoke with and prayed for men, women, and children — Christian and Muslim alike — who had just made a dangerous journey across the sea in search of a better life. A year later, on World Refugee Day, Pope Francis said, “We believe that Jesus was a refugee, had to flee to save his life, with Saint Joseph and Mary.”

The season of Advent begins next Sunday. Christians across the globe will sing in anticipation of Jesus’ birth: O come, o come Emmanuel. “Emmanuel” is a uniquely powerful word. It means “God with us.” That was God’s choice — to be with us, to be born in a manger, down in the dust, soon to be on the run from certain death. But we, too, have a choice — and it’s not one we can run from. We can shun our neighbors in need, or we can embrace them. We can invite them to our table. And in doing so, uphold the values that founded the very nation we celebrate when we gather in thanksgiving to the God who chose to reveal himself to us as a refugee.

Archbishop Cupich was appointed Archbishop of Chicago on September 20, 2014, and was installed as the ninth Archbishop of Chicago on Tuesday, November 18, 2014.

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