Answering the call to protect refugees - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Asylum seekers outside the Sacred Heart Parish gym in El Paso, Texas (Photo by Father Rafael Garcia, SJ). Sacred Heart Parish is one of the partner ministries where Maryknoll lay missioners work at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Today, June 20 is World Refugee Day.

Pope Francis calls us to welcome, protect, promote and integrate refugees and migrants in our homes, in our home countries, in our communities.

According to the latest statistics from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 108 million people in our world are currently forcibly displaced from their homes, and 258 million people live outside their country of birth. That is 3% of our global population!

People flee persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations perpetrated by government, police or organized crime, and climate and environmental crises. Yet many of us choose to continue living as if no crisis exists. As long as the water comes out when I turn on my faucet, there is no water crisis. As long as I can fill my car at the gas station, as long as I can buy lettuce in December, I can keep my blinders on.

More than 43 million — that is 40 percent — of the 108 million forcibly displaced people are children. When we spend more money on border security than we do on strengthening and supporting our global community, we are wasting our money and we are not welcoming or protecting refugees and migrants.

People choose to leave their homes when there is no other viable option for survival for themselves and their families.

Working at the Mexico-U.S. border and working with migrants in São Paulo, Brazil brings me face to face constantly with people who have ripped themselves from family and community in search for safety or economic survival. Ana María left her children in Venezuela to seek work in Brazil because she could not feed them in the current Venezuela economy. Mary fled Mexico pregnant after witnessing the murder of her partner right in front of her and then being threatened by the police because she pursued information about the murder.

Our faith does not call us to build higher walls, or to tear down our barns to build bigger ones to store our excess (Lk 12: 13-21), but instead demands that we share what we have, that we live justly and humbly and that we treat our neighbor as our sister and our brother. On World Refugee Day, we are reminded that 108.4 million of our neighbors are forcibly displaced from their homes.

How are we responding?


Heidi Cerneka
Heidi Cerneka, a Maryknoll lay missioner since 1996, is an immigration attorney. She currently works on a Migration, Women and Human Trafficking Project at Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center in El Paso, Texas; and at the Instituto Terra, Trabalho e Cidadania (ITTC) in São Paulo, Brazil