Catholic teaching calls on us to be good neighbors

by Jack Seeley ‘16

As the holiday season grows ever closer, it isn’t uncommon for us to forget the kinds of unrest being experienced all over the world. But, at a time when a range of international conflicts seem so remote, we should appreciate the freedoms and comforts at our every disposal– not everyone can.

The crisis in Syria is becoming a situation that involves more than just its own people. Close to 12 million Syrians (including nine million women/children) are fleeing their homes to find sanctuary in neighboring countries to avoid the atrocities of the Syrian Civil War. In light of the tremendous exposure to violence, hunger, and disease by the refugees, it seems only reasonable to ask, “Why aren’t we doing everything possible to help?” The explanation, quite predictably, is one that reflects our natural tendency towards self-preservation, but one that diverges completely from our Ignatian values.

The growing opposition to take in refugees is based on what is ostensibly a “national security risk.” Many have been led to believe that large numbers of refugees are associated with terrorist organizations. If this were true, it would give reasonable cause to protest the flow of Syrians; yet, this has no backing. In fact, the Migration Policy Institute indicates that of the 784,000 refugees brought into the US since 9/11, only three were arrested for activities involving terrorism (two were planning attacks not on the US; the third’s intentions weren’t even plausible).

Further, those opposed to such immigration argue that the cost of bringing in refugees would prove hurtful to our economy. Even from a purely economic standpoint, the cost (estimated to be around $65,000 over five years per refugee) is minor, especially when compared to the projections of economic growth seen in countries hosting the largest amount of refugees.

If these major concerns are based on such unsubstantiated claims, why does our country remain so averse to providing shelter to Syrians? Despite having moved past some of the greatest social injustices of history, we continue to alienate races that we see as unfamiliar. Sadly, this intolerance creates feelings of antipathy for those of a different background. Many Americans proclaim our country to be one of tolerance, freedom, and opportunity– if only we practiced what we preach. Even the Statue of Liberty, perhaps the greatest symbol of America, has an inscription that promotes inclusion:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

We simply can not continue to go on believing that these refugees will find a home purely by chance. Saint Ignatius High School’s mission does not advocate that we merely stand by, but to take action. Pope Francis even recently called for worldwide Catholic participation in the effort to provide assistance: “The Gospel calls,” he said, “asking of us to be close to the smallest and forsaken. To give them a concrete hope, and not just to tell them: ‘Have courage, be patient!’”

As the Christmas season approaches, I urge you to consider a story that should be quite familiar. Upon Mary and Joseph’s entrance into Jerusalem, they were repeatedly denied shelter by innkeepers whose indifference left the couple destitute. But, in the end, one hospitable neighbor gave what little shelter he could. And thus, from these humble beginnings, the Son of God was born.

In matters such as these, let us all follow the example of this courteous neighbor, working towards one mission: to give and not to count the cost.