Sunday, April 17, 2016

Syrian Migrants Traveled With the Pope

A dozen folks, three families, rode back to the Vatican with Pope Francis.

I think that's a good thing, since their homes in Syria aren't there any more. They survived, obviously, and had made it as far as Lesbos,1 an island in the Aegean Sea.

"A Gesture of Welcome"



(From AFP, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("The migrants are travelling on the same plane as the Pope back to the Vatican"
(BBC News))
"Migrant crisis: Pope returns from Greece with 12 migrants"
BBC News (April 16, 2016)

"Pope Francis has taken 12 Syrian migrants back with him to the Vatican after visiting a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.

"The three families, including six children, are all Muslim and had their homes bombed during the Syrian war.

"The Vatican said in a statement2 that Pope Francis wanted to 'make a gesture of welcome' to the refugees.

"Thousands of migrants are now stuck on Lesbos after last month's EU-Turkey deal to try to ease the flow....

"...Under the EU-Turkey agreement, migrants arriving illegally on the Greek islands from Turkey after 20 March will be deported unless they successfully claim for asylum.

"In return, for every Syrian returned to Turkey, the EU will take another Syrian directly from Turkey...."

(From Community of Sant'Egidio, used w/o permission.)
("Coming back from Greek Island of Lesbos, the pope gives a lesson of concrete commitment for refugees"
(Community of Sant'Egidio))
"Three families of Syrian refugees hosted by Pope Francis in Vatican. Sant'Egidio provides first welcome"
Community of Sant'Egidio (April 16, 2016)

"...They are 12 people- 6 of them are children - who will be hosted in Vatican. They come from bombed cities, had lost everything and are in a very precarious condition.

" 'Everything was arranged according to the rules. They have their documents. The Holy See, the Greek government and the Italian government have checked everything. They have been welcomed by the Vatican and with the collaboration of the Saint Egidio Community they will be searching for work' the Pope said."
I'm glad that those folks got out of Syria alive, with documentation that passed inspection by three separate governments.

It would be nice if everyone escaped Syria with their lives, an up-to-date passport, rail pass, international driving permit, and enough Euros and U.S. dollars to set themselves up comfortably someplace else. That said —

I don't regard migrants "arriving illegally" with horror: not when they are folks who very likely are doing well to have escaped a war zone with their lives — never mind full documentation.

I've never been in that situation myself, for which I'm duly grateful.

If — and this is a strictly hypothetical situation — my family's home was a smoking ruin, along with most of the rest of Sauk Centre, Minnesota, we might head north: toward the Canadian border.

If we made it that far, we might have passed an intact Federal Building: or not.

If we had, the place might have had the forms we'd need to apply for passports - - - you get the idea, I hope.

In that strictly hypothetical situation, I might not be surprised if Canadian authorities thought we could be terrorists.3

But I would hope that they'd let us cross the border and help us stay alive long enough to establish that we weren't trying to kill anyone.

I don't "look like" a terrorist, apart from my beard: not by most American standards. But I do "look American:" Anglo-American, anyway, although I'm not; and that's another topic.4

I've seen Pope Francis called a "pro-immigrant" Pope — and 'worse.' As a descendant of immigrants, I don't see that it as a bad thing: which is just as well, and I'll get back to that.

As for the three families being Muslim — I'm an adult convert to Catholicism, with the enthusiasm for my faith that implies. Among other things, I must take truth seriously: and respect those who seek truth, including folks who don't agree with me:
" 'All men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and his Church, and to embrace it and hold on to it as they come to know it.'26 This duty derives from 'the very dignity of the human person.'27 It does not contradict a 'sincere respect' for different religions which frequently 'reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men,'28 nor the requirement of charity, which urges Christians 'to treat with love, prudence and patience those who are in error or ignorance with regard to the faith.'29"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2104)
I also must take what our Lord said about love and strangers seriously.

"A Concrete Gesture"



(From U.S. Department of State, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Part of the Za'atri camp in Jordan for Syrian refugee. (July 18, 2013))
"...Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees who flee death from war and hunger, and who have begun a journey moved by hope for survival, the Gospel calls us to be 'neighbours' of the smallest and the abandoned, and to give them concrete hope. It's not enough to say, 'Take heart. Be patient'.... Christian hope has a fighting spirit, with the tenacity of one who goes toward a sure goal.

"Therefore, as the Jubilee of Mercy approaches, I make an appeal to parishes, religious communities, monasteries and shrines throughout Europe, that they express the Gospel in a concrete way and host a refugee family. A concrete gesture in preparation for the Holy Year of Mercy. May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every shrine of Europe welcome one family, beginning with my Diocese of Rome.

"I address my brother bishops of Europe, true pastors, that in their dioceses they endorse my appeal, remembering that Mercy is the second name of Love: 'What you have done for the least of my brothers, that you have done for me' (cf. Mt 25:46).

"In the coming days, the two parishes of the Vatican will also welcome two families of refugees...."
(Angelus, Pope Francis (September 6, 2015))
I don't know if today's three families include the ones promised last September. If they are, a seven-month wait could seem like a long time: or a short one, depending on how many diplomatic hurdles had to be cleared.

Either way, I am happy for the twelve folks who made it out of Syria to a reasonably secure location. That leaves more than four million who are still waiting.5

Those are just the ones we know about. A great many more apparently haven't made it into official lists; or are still alive, homeless, and somewhere in Syria.

I don't know any of them, though, and I have a roof over my head: so why should I care?

"The Whole Law and the Prophets"


About two millennia back, someone asked our Lord what the greatest commandment was:
"Jesus replied, 'The first is this: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone!

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength."

"The second is this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." There is no other commandment greater than these.' "
(Mark 12:29-31)
We see another angle on the same thing in Matthew 22:34-40. Here's how that ends:
"The second is like it: 23 You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

"24 The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments." "
(Matthew 22:39-40)
This wasn't a new idea:
"1 'Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!

"Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. "
(Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
'Love my neighbor' is clear enough: but who is my neighbor?

Basically, everyone.

I've talked about Luke 10:29-37, the good Samaritan, and getting a grip, before. (October 26, 2014)

Since I take what our Lord said seriously, I try to love God, love my neighbor, see everyone as my neighbor, and treat others as I want them to treat me. (Matthew 5:43-44, 7:12, 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; Luke 6:31 10:25-27, 29-37; Catechism, 1789)

It's simple, but not easy. (October 12, 2014)

Strangers and Math



(From sporki, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission.)
(Some of the 2,000,0006 folks at World Youth Day 2000, Vatican City and Rome.)

Helping folks who are in trouble is a very high priority. Matthew 25:34-46 makes that quite clear. (May 3, 2015)

Folks escaping Syria arguably fall under the "strangers" category in Matthew 25:35.

I'd like to think that leaders who have been turning Syrian refugees away do so because there are so many. Refusing shelter to all because they're afraid that a few might be terrorists — is understandable, but regrettable.

Moving, housing, and feeding even a fraction of a million strangers won't be easy. Neither will helping them settle in as at least semi-permanent members of society.

I think that helps explain why Pope Francis didn't try solving the problem by inviting all Syrian refugees to Vatican City; or even just the 660,000 who arrived in Lesbos last year — with another 3,000 coming each day.7

Vatican City covers about 110 acres, 0.44 square kilometers, a tad over an eighth of a square mile.

About 690 folks live there, so the population density is around 1,800/square kilometer, 4,800/square mile. That's between Hong Kong and Bahrain in terms of population density: quite manageable, these days.

Add 660,000, and you'd have 660,690 folks there: at roughly 1,501,000/square kilometer, or 579,000/square mile, if I did the math right.

That's a bit over 35 times as snug as Manila, Earth's the most densely-packed city, so far, at 42,800/square kilometer.

That's a lot of folks in one place: particularly if they're going to live there. I think it's worth noting that some of World Youth Day 2000's 2,000,000 attendees spilled over into Rome.

Doing What I Can


Part of our job is building a better world. (Catechism, 1928-1942, 2419-2442)

I could be overwhelmed by guilt, knowing that I haven't cured cancer, achieved a lasting peace in the Middle East, and helped millions of folks find new homes.

I could also believe that I can "...leap tall buildings in a single bound..." — but that would be crazy.

Humility, Catholic style, is having a balanced view of my abilities: or lack of them, and that's yet another topic. (August 10, 2014)

Happily, I'm expected to do what I can: not what I can't.
"As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life. The manner of this participation may vary from one country or culture to another...."
(Catechism, 1915) [emphasis mine]
But I must do what I can as an individual, and a member of my culture, to make things better. (Catechism, 1928-1942)

I don't think I have the political clout or wealth to 'make a difference.' As I said Friday before last, my household has been making our own laundry detergent and growing produce out back to make ends meet. (April 9, 2016)

I can, however, do what I'm doing now: say that the "dignity of the human person" is vital. (Catechism, 1700, 1929)

Each of us is made in the image of God, but we're not identical. We're supposed to have different abilities and needs. We're also supposed to look out for each other. (Catechism, 1929, 1934-1938)

Acting like loving my neighbor, and recognizing the dignity of everyone, matters?

That's not easy. But like I've said before, it's important:

1 Folks have been living on Lesbos for ten millennia, give or take, maybe more. Mytilene, their capital city, goes back three millennia: probably. Hittites called the island Lazpa during the late Bronze Age.

These days it's chiefly famous for being where Sappho came from. Nearly all of that poet's works got lost in the shuffle when Rome was a superpower.

About her personal life, I'll go along with this:
"The only contemporary source for Sappho's life is her own poetry, and scholars are skeptical of reading it biographically. Later biographical accounts are also unreliable."
(Sappho, Life, Wikipedia)
We may, eventually, piece together more of what happened before and immediately after the Late Bronze Age collapse. I've mentioned that, and why I don't rant about folks who aren't exactly like me, before. (October 16, 2015; July 12, 2015; April 5, 2015)

2 A "working translation" from the Director of the Holy See Press Office's statement:
"...Traduzione in lingua inglese

"Statement of the Director of the Holy See Press Office

"The Pope has desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees, accompanying on his plane to Rome three families of refugees from Syria, 12 people in all, including six children. These are all people who were already in camps in Lesbos before the agreement between the European Union and Turkey.

"The Pope's initiative was brought to fruition through negotiations carried out by the Secretariat of State with the competent Greek and Italian authorities.

"All the members of the three families are Muslims. Two families come from Damascus, and one from Deir Azzor (in the area occupied by Daesh). Their homes had been bombed.

"The Vatican will take responsibility for bringing in and maintaining the three families. The initial hospitality will be taken care of by the Community of Sant'Egidio.

"[00623-EN.01] [Original text: Italian - working translation]..."
(Dichiarazione del Direttore della Sala Stampa della Santa Sede, 16.04.2016 [Statement by the Director of the Press Office of the Holy See][internal link mine] (April 16, 2016))
3 Most Americans do not, I am sure, think of ourselves as "terrorists." However, I can imagine circumstances where folks elsewhere might assume that Americans are mass-murderers just waiting to snap:
4 Wikipedia says that "...Anglo-American is a rare term occasionally used to refer to an English American and/or an English Canadian...."

I'm descended from European immigrants, so I "look American" by some standards. On the other hand, one of my ancestors was not at all pleased when another of my ancestors married the daughter of a 'decent' family:
5 The UNHCR says they know of 4,837,208 "Registered Syrian Refugees." (April 11, 2016)

The bad news is that millions of folks from Syria have no homes, and are trying to survive by leaving the war zones. The good news is that quite a few other folks are trying to help.

More, not an exhaustive list:
6 World Youth Day attendance:
  • Buenos Aires (1987)
    1 million
  • Santiago de Compostela (1989)
    Over 500,000
  • Czestochowa (1991)
    1.6 million
  • Denver (1993)
    600,000
  • Manila (1995)
    Approximately 4 million
  • Paris (1997)
    1.2 million
  • Rome (2000 Jubilee)
    2 million
  • Toronto (2002)
    800,000
  • Cologne (2005)
    1.1 million
  • Sydney (2008)
    400,000
    (Source: National Catholic Register (August 5, 2011))
7 About two thirds of a million folks, 660,000, arrived in Lesbos last year, officially. It's hard to get solid numbers about the Syrian mess: small wonder, considering how many folks are trying to get out. It's what politicos sometimes call a 'fluid' situation.

2 comments:

Brigid said...

Wrong word: "I'm glad that those folks got our of Syria alive"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

:D Oops. I've been doing that a lot lately. Found, fixed, and thanks, Brigid!

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