A man who told police he was from Mauritania is taken into custody Feb. 14 by Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers after walking across the U.S.-Canada border into Quebec. CNS photo/Christinne Muschi, Reuters

Editorial: Our Christian duty to care for refugees crossing the border

  • March 2, 2017

As Canadians debate how we should respond to a surge in asylum seekers crossing southern borders, Catholics should reflect on recent words from Pope Francis about what he calls the scandal of hypocrisy.

In a pre-Lent homily, the Pope suggested we examine our lives for signs of double standards. Do we profess to be true believers but in fact say one thing and do another? Do we send mixed signals by attending Mass and becoming active parishioners, but otherwise refuse to live as Christians? Do we embrace the New Testament but abandon Gospel values?

“Scandal is saying one thing and doing another — it is a double life, a total double life,” the Pope said. “It would be good for all of us to consider if there is something of a double life within us — of appearing just, or seeming to be good believers, good Catholics, but underneath doing something else.”

His comments were in reference to employers who fail to pay a just wage, exploit the poor or engage in “dirty” business. But they also apply to Christians who would deny mercy to asylum seekers who arrive at borders with little more than the clothes on their backs and whatever money and possessions are crammed into pockets and backpacks. Francis acknowledged as much last year when he called it hypocrisy to identify as a Christian and “chase away a refugee.”

“You cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian,” he said. “You cannot be a Christian without practising the Beatitudes.”

This has become a Canadian issue due to a U.S. administration that is enacting harsh immigration and refugee restrictions and threatening to deport millions of people who, over many years, have snuck into the United States. It’s unclear how much of the rhetoric will become policies that can survive court challenges but, meantime, a growing number of nervous people are seeking refuge at Canadian borders.

So far, the numbers have been manageable and the welcome has been mostly courteous. But that could change quickly if tensions south of the border remain high after the snow melts. If even a small fraction of America’s estimated 11 million undocumented residents head north, Canadians will face some tough questions.

Pope Francis has reminded us how a Christian must respond. It is not to fixate on how refugees will impact us in terms of security, jobs and costs. Those are important considerations, of course, and need to be prudently managed over time. But they are not the priority.

Our first response as Christians is to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and welcome the stranger. We are called to put the least of our brothers first. To do otherwise and call yourself Christian is, as the Pope reminds us, hypocritical.

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