This is the first of three columns that will deal with the issue of migrants and refugees: its causes, what the Church teaches, and what action should be taken.
Imagine for a moment what it would take for you to stuff whatever you could into a garbage bag and take your entire family to a place you have never been, without any certain plans or destination.
Imagine what things would have to be like for you to trust your children to a nearly complete stranger who will take them far away, with an uncertain future.
Imagine the desperation that you would feel if you were persecuted because of your religion, being the subject of a military crackdown, and forced to leave what you have always called home.
Now take a few moments to imagine yourself in those scenarios - fleeing war, gang violence, religious persecution, drought or forced migration. If our approach to these issues of migrants and refugees does not start with the empathy and compassion that is required of us as Christians, then we will never be able to understand what the Church teaches about this issue.
In sociology, they teach that there are two factors that cause people to migrate - pull and push. The pull factors are those that make going to another place more attractive - a better job, a new opportunity, being closer to family - usually the choice of the people on the move. The push factors are conditions that force people from their homes involuntarily like war, violence, and disaster.
At this moment, there are over 65 million people around the world who have been pushed from their homes involuntarily for one of those conditions. Let that sink in for a moment - 65 million. That is more than three times the population of New York state. Each of them has seen tragedy and suffered loss, and each of them has a story. (You can read some of the stories of refugees and migrants at sharejourney.org)
I have had the opportunity with Catholic Relief Services to have been in Greece and Serbia a couple of years ago and listened to the stories of Syrian refugees as they made their way through Europe. I have visited with families in El Salvador and heard stories of the fear of gang violence that they face on a daily basis. I have spoken to refugee families on Buffalo's West Side who have found a new home in our city. Although they all have been subjected to great challenges, to see them only as victims risks stripping them of their dignity as people who are committed to shaping their lives every bit as much as others. Seeing them as just recipients of others' generosity inhibits our ability to value them as persons with the potential to contribute to the common good.
Imagine yourself as a refugee. Then ask yourself what justice looks like.
Deacon Don is the Diocesan Director for Catholic Relief Services and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.