The following is a transcription of a question and answer session delivered by Archbishop Robert Carlson on Saturday, November 21, 2015, at the Sixth Archdiocesan Pastoral Assembly. The first part of this presentation, a speech about beONE, was posted previously. Additional questions from the session will be posted soon. The Assembly was the third phase in the rollout of beONE, a bold vision for Catholic St. Louis, which is intended to unite all the priorities of the Archdiocese into one vision and language. Visitbeone.archstl.org for more information.
Question: We are having a crisis in the Middle East, and we will be accepting immigrants. My family was an unwanted immigrant family. How can we be welcoming and understand the people coming here? How can we as Catholics be as welcoming as we can to the people who come here?
Very good question. First of all, let me expand the whole idea of the immigration movement that we see worldwide.
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association is a pontifical association. I happen to be familiar with it because of some work that I’ve done in the past as part of the Middle East Foundation.
There are Catholics – and Catholics only – in Jordan who have been in the camps almost for two years. When we had the collection, or suggested to parishes that they could take up a collection, part of the funds that we’re raising are for those Catholics so that they have the ability either to be resettled someplace in the Middle East, because most of them want to stay there, but obviously they had to flee because of the difficulty with ISIS. Or, to provide the funds so that some of those Catholic families, Christian families, could come to the United States. That’s the group that I would welcome with open arms.
Secondly, we have the question of those hundreds of thousands of people who are fleeing Syria. Many of them are Muslim, but 4 or 5% are Christian. And as you know most of those have fled just moments before terror would strike the villages in which they lived.
One of our concerns, obviously since what happened in France just a week ago – and I was in Rome at the same time. You wouldn’t recognize St. Peter’s Square right now with all the military presence guarding that. And the airport. I’ve never seen so many armed people in my life than when we left Rome just after the Paris bombings.
We do have to be cautious. There was a wonderful article in the Wall Street Journal that listed all of the points that our government is supposed to follow. And if they were to follow those points, as they outline them, then we know that we could be secure in the refugees that we receive. If our government does not follow the protocols that are in place, there is a serious question of risk. But the people in that group who would want to hurt us are small in number, where people who are really in need are great in number; many of them families.
I think we can do two things: one, we should call upon our elected officials to follow the protocols that are in place. Because that will help to protect us. And secondly, I think we have to do something so that ISIS doesn’t touch our heart. They may be vicious; they may be cruel, but I am not willing to give in to what they want to accomplish. I will not fear them.
I think we have to be unwilling to allow them to control us and to stop us from doing what is right.
Yes, the government must follow the protocols. And I think it would be very good for all of us to write our congressmen, our senators, or the president himself, and demand that they follow the protocols that they have in place. Last night on television one of the governors was talking and he said that already the federal government has placed refugees in his state and he didn’t know it. That’s not following the protocol.
We have to make sure that they follow the protocols; we must demand that. But at the same time, we cannot allow ISIS and evil people like that, to stop us from doing what’s right according to the scriptures.
Follow-up: As Catholics, do you think there may be some dialogue with Muslim groups to make the ones that do get here to make them feel more welcome, so that they don’t have to feel as though it’s “Us vs. Them”?
A: Your point is exactly correct. Let’s look at what happened in France. They ghettoized them. And once they are ghettoized, then evil groups like ISIS can get in there and change hearts and minds. Just as in this city, we must have a dialogue between people of different races, if they are to come here, there must be dialogue between people of different nationalities, backgrounds, what have you.
When I came seven years ago it was the Muslim community that had the first welcome reception at the end of Ramadan. As a result of course, through the interfaith partnership, we have a very good working relationship. But we can’t allow them to be ghettoized, or the problems that plague Europe will plague us as well.
My Irish immigrant relatives, they felt they were ghettoized from the Germans, so isn’t it good that we Germans and Irish now don’t feel ghettoized anymore? We even talk to each other. But that’s a very important point.