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World Refugee Day spurs calls for action and prayer for forgiveness

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) among those advocating for ‘more robust and humane system to welcome refugees and asylum seekers’

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Julie Ricard via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — People from a diverse milieu of religious traditions observed World Refugee Day by gathering for an online vigil this week to advocate for the safety and well-being of refugees and to ask for forgiveness for not doing more to fight injustices against them.

“Forgive us for the times we have remained silent or complacent to the inhumane policies that deny refugees are facing danger and unjust systems and structures,” prayed Sister Susan Nchubiri of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns. “Forgive us for the failure to take our moral obligation seriously to protect those who face danger and threats to their lives.”

Sister Susan Nchubiri (Screenshot)

The vigil, hosted by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, was filled with testimonials and calls for action to create a more welcoming environment for millions of people displaced from their home countries by persecution, conflict or other disruptions, such as natural disasters.

“There are over 108 million people displaced worldwide, including 35 million classified as refugees, both records in human history and demonstrative of the significant and growing need for leadership and for our communities to come together in support of more welcoming policies,” said Danilo Zak, acting director of policy and advocacy for Church World Service.

Similar sentiments were expressed in a statement released prior to the vigil by faith-based organizations from the coalition, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), highlighting the need for “the U.S. government and our communities to remember our moral and legal commitments to people forced to leave their homelands.”

“As people of faith, we call on Congress and the administration to do everything in their power to fund and support service providers in an effort to create a more robust and humane system to welcome refugees and asylum seekers,” the statement says. “On this World Refugee Day, we honor the many refugees and asylum seekers who have found safety in the U.S. and we are grateful to them for their willingness to put their hope and trust in our nation. May we live up to it.”

Early on in the vigil, the Rev. Kendal L. McBroom of the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society explained why the welfare of refugees and asylum seekers is important to many people of faith.

“In our many traditions, we are instructed by our sacred texts and the divine spirit to be hospitable for not only is it a sign of our faith, but it is a sign of us welcoming the very deity we claim to serve,” said McBroom, director of civil and human rights. “In the Christian tradition, the New Testament states that by welcoming the sojourner in our midst, we very well may be entertaining the angels, so today, we invite you to be a part of this move of the divine spirit to welcome, appreciate, support and include those who have been displaced from their homes by a myriad of issues, from environmental degradation to civil unrest.”

Later, Zak suggested several policy actions. He called on Congress to support key legislation, such as the Afghan Adjustment Act and the Refugee Protection Act, and to address the fact that some refugees are having to wait 10 years to be united with family members.

Patrick Giuliani, a policy analyst with the Hope Border Institute, which does work in the U.S.-Mexico border region, called for an immigration system that treats displaced and vulnerable people with dignity and respect and that focuses less on militarization.

“We could be focusing on supporting the work of local communities, churches, service providers and good Samaritans and volunteers that are doing such important work when it comes to reception and welcoming those seeking safety,” Giuliani said.

The Rev. Sunny Kang (Screenshot)

Other speakers included the Rev. Sunny Kang, senior pastor of United University Church, which is associated with both the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Methodist Church. He noted how rewarding it’s been for people in his Los Angeles church to assist immigrants from various countries, including Iran and Syria.

“It has been an incredible, great joy for my congregation because we believe that we are able to use the resources we have to the greatest benefit for the people around the world,” Kang said.

However, churches that are contemplating doing similar work should consider the refugees’ degree of need, which varies depending on what stage they’re in, he said.

“What we do is we walk with them where we have the capacity, and so, as a congregation, we need to really know what our capacities are and what we’re able to do,” he said.

For example, “my congregation decided that we were not really suited to work with people when they’re first coming in, because we didn’t have the kind of resources” that are needed. However, “during the time when their hope is being restored and when they are starting to learn the language … that’s when we decided to get involved.”

Also on the program was Pastor Banza Mukalay of the Restoration Community Church. He shared his personal experience as a former refugee who fled from his country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, because of persecution. He wound up in a refugee camp in Tanzania before coming to the United States, where he has flourished to the point of being able to help others to access employment, schooling and medical care and to become self-sufficient. Some have bought property and have their own business. “They are working,” he said. “They do everything, so this gives me hope.”

It is important to remember that the United States is “a country built on the experience of refugees,” said Rabbi Ethan Bair of Syracuse University.

Praying aloud, he said, “May we never forget who we are and that our strength derives from the grit and contributions of the immigrant and refugee. May we value people intrinsically, and the human rights of those who claim asylum here and everywhere — that most sacred of human rights — and may we be better for extending to others the privileges we cherish for ourselves.”

Watch the vigil here.

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