President of Catholic Relief Services Responds to the Border Crisis

Sean Callahan, the President and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), wrote the following in response to the family separation happening at the US/Mexico border. Included in his reflection are ways that you can help.

“In Mexico last week, I sat with a mother who explained the suffering she and her sons faced as they left their home in El Salvador because her boys were threatened to be killed by a local gang.  Can you imagine her fear when she found out her little boys, David (8 years) and Isaiah (5 years), were targeted by the gang.  David loves to write poems and his mother beamed with pride as she spoke about his thoughtfulness beyond his years, and Isaiah, a quiet boy with a buzz haircut, was known by everyone in the migrant center as a meticulous artist.  Her eyes swelled with tears as she described the sickness in her stomach and the hopelessness she felt when she thought her children would be taken from her (and all of us in this world) before they could share their God given gifts.   What could she do?  She ran!  She risked her life and that of her children, using what little money she had on transport and food, and then walking for 2 ½ days without food until they found the Sisters and the migrant center in Mexico.

Yesterday, I met another women with two sons.  She is one of close to a million people who have fled violence and are now in a camp in Bangladesh.  She told me how her home had been destroyed, and how she traveled to Bangladesh to seek a “new life” for her boys.  The boys were quiet and a bit shy of this foreigner in there small shelter, but they broke into big smiles and giggles when I asked them what they wanted to be and they proudly said teachers – both of them.  As we spoke in the dimly lit shelter the monsoon rains began to pelt her plastic roof, and the camp turned from a hot dusty place, to one of streams, puddles, and mud.  Her boys laughed as I waved goodbye sliding out the door.  My shoes were caked with mud, and everyone watched (and smiled) as I tried to make my way without landing on my backside in a muddy puddle.  Despite the inconveniences, she felt lucky to be in a place where she could sleep in a shelter of bamboo and plastic sheeting on an immaculately clean dirt floor with her two boys.

In Mexico and in Bangladesh, I saw people who cared!  Our local partners (Sisters in Mexico and Caritas Bangladesh) are the people you can count on when your life is in the balance.  And our colleagues?  I was inspired!  Inspired by their commitment, dedication and perseverance.  Sure, they get tired, frustrated, and are constantly overcoming challenges and obstacles, but they just kept coming.  Driving forward!   They did not let the pelting rain, the threats, the mud, the violence or the poverty get them down.  No!  They are working overtime to ensure these families can stay together in a safe environment.  They are installing solar lights for safety near the camps latrines, cutting steps into the hillside, providing access to potable water, securing shelters with ropes, creating child friendly spaces, and explaining to the local communities that these are “good people” and that we must (as Pope Francis urges us to do) be welcomed, protected, promoted, and integrated them into our communities.  It isn’t easy, but as Sister Magdalena said from her barrio in Mexico City, “I did not come here because it is easy”.

I write to you not just because these stories should be shared, but to demonstrate the lengths that people will go to in order to keep their families safe and together.  We see this around the world.  It is not just in Mexico or Bangladesh, but Uganda, Syria, South Sudan, and beyond.  That is why it is so disturbing to me personally, and, I expect, to many of you to see the separation of families at the border of the USA.  As a civil rights leader stated in testimony today, it is not who we are!  Regrettably, we have witnessed these sort of practices and their consequences all over the world.  We know the impact of child separation through our extensive work with orphans and vulnerable children.  We witness and respond to the poverty and violence that drive families to make the difficult choice of fleeing their homes to seek safety here and in many other countries.  And, we often call on governments to respect the dignity and rights of children and families.

Pope Francis and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) have spoken prophetically and resolutely about the policy and practice of separating children from their families at the US border. The USCCB is actively advocating on behalf of the Church to reverse this policy and end this practice immediately.  As part of the Church in the United States, we stand in full support of the Holy Father and the USCCB.  While we do not directly advocate on this domestic issue, we are working with the USCCB to make sure our experience and perspectives inform and bolster their work.

Below are links you may find useful:

For those of you who are either not U.S. citizens or those U.S. citizens who would like to do more, please take a moment to share a meal or a moment with someone from a foreign land, stop someone from talking bad about a neighbor or colleague, and say a prayer for those children who have been separated from their families.

Let us all be that beckon of light that provides hope, solace, and direction for those who have been separated from their loved ones.”

Sean Callahan
President and CEO
Catholic Relief Services”