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Why Catholic Charities Welcomes the Stranger

Kevin Hickey is executive director, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden and trustee, Catholic Charities USA.

In December, 2015, the Catholic bishops of New Jersey wrote that, “Welcoming strangers can be risky and inconvenient, and our national leaders always must act with regard for the safety and wellbeing of the citizens of this great land. But safe and convenient lives are not the narrow gate to which Jesus calls us. Jesus calls us to go beyond our comfort zone, and when we do, he always will provide for us.”

In that same vein, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R, Archbishop of Newark and the Province of New Jersey, recently reminded us that we must, “understand and heed the call of God, who through Moses told the people of Israel: ‘You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt’ (Ex 23:9). Jesus asks His disciples to go further, calling on us to recognize Him in the stranger: ‘Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me’ (Mt. 25:40).”

Cardinal Tobin’s sentiments, similar to Pope Francis’ call to “Welcome the Stranger,” are reflected in the work carried out every day at Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden through its Refugee and Immigration Services.

Recently, in celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, our own Bishop Dennis Sullivan of the Diocese of Camden was quick to remind us that on this issue “our holy Mother asks us to receive them as family, sisters and brothers, in the very same way she received Saint Juan Diego. Our church, faithful to the Gospel mandate of ‘whatsoever you do for the least among us you do for me,’ teaches us to show the concern of Jesus Christ to refugees and migrants.”

In this way the work of charity is simple, as Bishop Sullivan often asked of us at Catholic Charities, “be the eyes, and ears, and the hands of Christ to suffering people.”

In 2016, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden welcomed 103 refugees and immigrants from countries around the world — many of them fleeing the horrors of war and persecution. Our agency helps these newcomers establish new homes, jobs and a new life here in South Jersey.

Catholic Charities also provides language and cultural training to foster assimilation, in keeping with our country’s heritage as a melting pot of ethnicities. Many of our clients come with little more than the clothing on their backs, but they all come seeking the freedoms and opportunities unique to this great land.

Catholic Charities, Diocese of Camden, also echoes the concerns of Sister Donna Markham OP, PhD, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA: “I am especially worried about the innocent children and mothers who have fled for their lives without support and are now caught in this regrettable and terribly frightening situation,” Sister Donna said. “While I certainly appreciate the importance of vetting to ensure the safety of our country, I also believe we must treat those who are most vulnerable with compassion and mercy and with hearts willing to be opened wide in the face of dire human need… The basis for all Catholic Charities’ activity is the dignity of the human person, especially those who are most vulnerable.”

We urge the Trump Administration to quickly complete its review of admissions policies for immigrants and refugees so that we can once again welcome the desperate and vulnerable people from conflict regions around the world who are eager to become productive, hard-working members of our South Jersey community.