Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A retrospective on 2015

This retrospective involves looking back over my shoulders at the year that is now over. It seems only yesterday that 2015 began and now a new year is already starting. The years flash by, seemingly faster and faster as I age. My parents learned this a long time ago, and now I am convinced. 

Aging can be a good thing if you talking about a fine wine or cheese, but for people, it means becoming more and more decrepit.  It means aches and pains and frequent doctor's visits. That is part of my story this past year. Dr. Seuss expresses the problem of aging in his distinctive way. Thankfully, my condition is not this bad!

Having already past the "three-score years and ten" milestone, I am only too aware of what the psalmist in Psalm 90 is referring to when he describes people as "dust." This phrase is echoed on Ash Wednesday when the priest intones, "Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return." All of us are mortal. In fact, the mortality rate of the human species is 100%. There are no exceptions!

God, according to the psalmist exists "from everlasting to everlasting." The psalmist writes that for God "a thousand years . . . are like a day that is just gone by, or like a watch in the night." For me, and indeed for the rest of us as well, our lives are over before they have hardly started, just as 2015 has flashed by.

These are not simply the idle musings of an old codger but this is a truth that everyone discovers if they live long enough. Teenagers tend to be blissfully unaware of this fact, but that does negate it. The year 2015 is now history, and one day all of us will be too. In the meantime, let us savor these brief moments.

Permit me, therefore, to engage in a brief retrospection. What happened in 2015? To answer this, I don't want to rehash old newspaper headlines. There were too many noteworthy events to list in this short posting. Instead, I prefer to ask myself: Did any of the things I speculated about early that year actually transpire? More important: Are any of them related? And if so, how?

In January, I wrote about five things that I expected to happen in 2015. Most were relatively safe bets, but I am surprised at how well my guesses turned out. For the record, here are the five I listed (unchanged from last year):
  1. Pope Francis will continue to make waves in the Roman Catholic Church.
  2. The growing wealth inequality in the world.
  3. More racism in the U.S. and some other countries.
  4. More conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
  5. Greater progress on climate change.

What I discovered by looking back at the five speculations is how closely connected all of them are. I wrote extensively about many of them during 2015 or at least touched on each one. All of them, as is my self-imposed mandate, deal with religion in some way. Let me briefly describe each of them. 

Pope Francis did indeed make waves and thereby earned the ire of many people both inside the Catholic hierarchy and outside of it. Yet this self-effacing Argentinian -- a first for the Americas! -- has endeared himself to millions of people, whether Catholics or not. Both in his lifestyle and his proclamations, he has clearly affirmed that he stands with the poor of this world. Like Luther, he could say, "Here I stand! I cannot do otherwise!"

The growing inequity of income and wealth in this world has been in the news consistently since Thomas Piketty exposed it in best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), Pope Francis, who was elected the same year, has crusaded not only on this issue but also on climate change.

Piketty's book has done much to wake up the world, even if the captains of the corporations who receive the megabucks have not changed their ways. Nor are they likely to do so while the governments of the world remain in their thrall. They are the ones who buy elections for their chosen candidates. And they are the ones who may yet stop Donald Trump from getting the Republican nomination. 

Trump's vision for 2016

Trump's supporters are typically less educated, poorer, white males, who feel that they have been left powerless by the elites who run the country. These men are often racists and are opposed to any form of gun control. They are afraid of terrorists and are thus susceptible to appeals that play upon this fear.

Not only Trump but also former Prime Minister Stephen Harper used such fears in order to win re-election. Harper's supporters tend to be more elderly and rural people who are terrified by the influx of refugees, many of whom are Muslims. A proposed ban on women wearing niqabs defined their fear.

Harper restricted the number of refugees that would be admitted to Canada. In contrast, the new Liberal government has enthusiastically welcomed them. But some European countries, such as Denmark and Hungary, have banned any refugees from entering. Islamophobia is a form of racism nd it seems to be growing all over the world.

There are many other examples of racism such as the wholesale killing of blacks in the US by white police. In many cases, the police have not been criminally charged, although civil suits have been filed. 

The conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians shows no signs of abating. Part of the problem is the unwavering support that some Western countries provide to Israel while neglecting Palestine. Canada is one of these countries. I hope that will soon be past tense. The war in Syria and Iraq has fed anti-Muslim feelings and thus has exacerbated the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by encouraging further support for Israel.
Climate change finally got the attention it deserved at COP21 in December in Paris, where more than 190 countries reached an agreement on limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees C as compared to pre-industrial levels. This accord is unprecedented and represents an enormous advance over earlier agreements. 

The support of Pope Francis no doubt contributed to this successful development but there was also a widespread realization that something had to be done to reduce the effects of greenhouse emissions. Even some climate change deniers reluctantly came on board and approved the agreement.

2015 was quite a year! In spite of the way the year flashed by, which may have been just my personal impression, much happened during this year. I was impressed not so much by my own speculations but rather by the way all these things came together. That is the nature of the world in which we live. Events are never isolated from each other but are woven together in ways that only become apparent in retrospect.

For 2016, I am not going to hazard any new predictions. Instead, I suggest that these five are good for another year. Let's wait and see what happens by the end of the year. If my experience is a reliable guide, we will probably not have to wait very long. Fasten your seatbelts! It's going to be quite a ride!

Enough of my rambling! I wish all of you a blessed 2016! 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Some Christmas Prayers

Prayer is central to the Christian life, as it is also for people from other faiths. It is their lifeline to God. The purpose of prayer is not so much to list our many needs (God already knows them, although he doesn't mind our mentioning them), but it is really focused on praising God and listening to him. It is not our will that ultimately matters, but God's will: "His will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

That is what the Christian prayers that I have selected do as well. Sweeping the centuries from St. Ephraim the Syrian until today, they are Christmas meditations dwelling on the significance of Christ's birth. For Christians the Incarnation is fundamental to their faith: God sent his only Son to dwell among us and to restore not only us but the entire world that he loves so much.

As a result of the Incarnation, the Christian Church throughout the centuries has confessed that Christ is both fully divine and fully human. Judaism and Islam deny this, but that difference ought not to be a barrier to Christians, Jews, and Muslims accepting each other. For that matter, people of every faith must accept what they have in common and not accent the differences as is all too prevalent today.

That acceptance is the focus of the last prayer which welcomes all refugees as brothers and sisters regardless of their religion. When we welcome them, we are welcoming Christ whose birth is celebrated at Christmas time and will be in perpetuity, as St. Ephraim writes.

The entire world must welcome strangers and not reject them as some people do, even those who profess to be Christians. I can think of no more appropriate way to celebrate Christmas this year than by welcoming refugees. Do you hear me, Donald Trump?

Again, I wish all of you a blessed Christmas, whether you celebrate it or not. Do not be distracted by the consumerism that detracts from the real meaning of Christmas. And, as you enjoy your Christmas dinner, don't forget to leave a place or two for the strangers in your midst. Welcome them with open arms!

Nativity Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian

The feast day of your birth resembles you, O Lord 
because it brings joy to all humanity. 
Old people and infants alike enjoy your day. 
Your day is celebrated from generation to generation. 

Kings and emperors may pass away, 
And the festivals to commemorate them soon lapse. 
But your festival will be remembered until the end of time. 
Your day is a means and a pledge of peace. 

At Your birth heaven and earth were reconciled, 
Since you came from heaven to earth on that day 
You forgave our sins and wiped away our guilt. 

You gave us so many gifts on the day of your birth: 
A treasure chest of spiritual medicines for the sick; 
Spiritual light for the blind; 
The cup of salvation for the thirsty; 
The bread of life for the hungry. 

In the winter when trees are bare, 
You give us the most succulent spiritual fruit. 
In the frost when the earth is barren, 
You bring new hope to our souls. 
In December when seeds are hidden in the soil, 
The staff of life springs forth from the virgin womb. 

St. Ephraim the Syrian (AD 306-373)

Nativity Prayer of St. Augustine

Let the just rejoice,
for their justifier is born.
Let the sick and infirm rejoice,
For their saviour is born.
Let the captives rejoice,
For their Redeemer is born.
Let slaves rejoice,
for their Master is born.
Let free men rejoice,
For their Liberator is born.
Let All Christians rejoice,
For Jesus Christ is born.

St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-440)

Nativity Prayer of St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Let Your goodness Lord appear to us, that we
made in your image, conform ourselves to it.
In our own strength
we cannot imitate Your majesty, power, and wonder
nor is it fitting for us to try.
But Your mercy reaches from the heavens
through the clouds to the earth below.
You have come to us as a small child,
but you have brought us the greatest of all gifts,
the gift of eternal love
Caress us with Your tiny hands,
embrace us with Your tiny arms
and pierce our hearts with Your soft, sweet cries.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (AD 1090-1153)

Prayer for those who seek refuge in our land

Sheltering God,

You were born in flight,

Your parents anxious and given no rest.

The manner of your birth calls us to
Open-heartedness and sensitivity to the strangers in our midst.
Help us not to flee your challenge.
The violence of the present time teaches us fear of the stranger,
Reluctant to reach out to those who are different.
Grace us this day as we seek
To see you in the faces of those uprooted,
Weary, as they seek refuge and peace. Amen.

Blessed are the wanderers and those adrift.
Blessed are the strangers at our door.
Blessed are the unfed, the homeless on the road.
Blessed is the child crying in pain.
Blessed is the mother working to provide for her children, left behind in her native country.
Blessed are those who welcome Christ to be born again when they welcome these ones.
Blessed are we who struggle to make a place in our hearts for all of our brothers and sisters. 

O God,
You welcome all your children,
And embrace the prodigals ones,
Help us open our hearts
And welcome all who come, searching
As our ancestors did,
For asylum and the promise of a new land, a new life.

Root out fear from our souls;
Help us form the words
‘Sister’ and ‘Brother’
As we greet those who seek refuge in our land.
Let us remember that,
With your grace,
There are enough loaves and fishes
To go around
If we come together
As your family.

Give us the courage
And the compassion
To respect the rights of all
In this country of abundance,
To embrace all in
The name of your love. 

(Uniya is a Jesuit social justice centre.)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Trump, Trudeau, and the spirit of Christmas

As 2015 draws inexorably to an end, it is time for me to reflect briefly on two of the most noteworthy politicians in North America. I use the word "noteworthy" cautiously since many people may question whether Donald Trump is truly worthy of note. In contrast, Justin Trudeau well deserves this accolade. I will close with some remarks on Christmas, especially as it relates to how these two men demonstrate the Christmas spirit and what it means to be a Christian politician today.

I picked North America since that is where I live and where this year I have had a frontrow seat watching these two men, only one of whom, strictly speaking, is a politician. The other is a wannabe politician. These men have much in common, yet there are also crucial differences. It is these differences that come to the forefront during this Christmas season.

Trump needs little introduction. This bombastic and narcistic billionaire has the whole world in a tizzy. Not only Americans but also people everywhere are anxiously watching the Republican race to select their presidential candidate for the election next year.

If much of the world cringes at the prospect, millions of Americans support him. In national polls, he currently holds the lead with 34%. This is true in nearly all categories, except for Tea Party and "very conservative" voters where his support drops two percent. In a recent poll in New Hampshire, his support rose to 39%.

Remarkably, Trump's support did not collapse after he announced support for a ban on Muslims entering the US. That position is highly popular within the GOP; more than 50% support Trump's proposed Muslim ban. Among Trump's own supporters there is 82% support for it while slightly less than 50% support a national database of Muslims. But only 28% of GOP primary voters go so far as to think mosques in the United States should be shut down.

What many of his supporters don't realize is that Trump has changed his position on many issues. For example, he used to be pro-choice, now he is pro-life and opposed to abortions. Similarly, his position on gun control has intensified.

How this opportunistic, misogenistic, Islamaphobe can receive such widespread support illustrates the malaise that has gripped the US. The NRA speaks for a majority of American with 58% having a favorable view of this organization. Sadly, too many Americans have bought into the idea that guns are necessary for self-defense, whereas there is overwhelming evidence in other countries to the contrary.

If Trump -- God forbid! -- does achieve the presidency, I expect some Americans will want to flee to Canada. Since Canada is now favorably inclined to accept refugees, they will be welcomed with open arms. However, I have just one piece of important advice: leave your guns at the border. Guns are not welcome here.

Trudeau, whose surname begins with the same three letters as does Trump's, is a bird of a different feather. In the federal election in October, his opponents from both major parties dismissed him as "not yet ready." What they overlooked is that Trudeau learned about politics on his father's knee. Pierre Trudeau served as the15th Prime Minister of Canada from 1968 to1979, and again from 1980 to 1984.

Trudeau does not have Trump's billions, but he is a multi-millionaire. Admittedly, both men inherited much of their wealth. Unlike Trump, however, Trudeau is a politician: he was elected to the House of Commons for the first time in the 2008 election. Although not as seasoned a politician as his father, he can claim that title better than Trump, who has never held an elected office.

Trudeau and his new (and diverse) cabinet at the swearing in ceremony, November 4, 2015

Trudeau displayed his political skills by moving the Liberal Party, of which he is the leader, to the left of the NDP, which is Canada's mildly socialist party. The NDP aided this shift by advocating a balanced budget during the election in order to ward off the stigma that the NDP has had of being profligate when it hasa been in power provincially.

Very few people in Canada initially predicted a plurality for Trudeau's Liberals, much less a majority. They won 184 of the 338 seats, with 39.5% of the popular vote; a gain of 150 seats compared to the 2011 federal election. This gain was the biggest numerical increase for a single party since Confederation, and marked the first time that a party had rebounded from third place in the Commons to a majority government.

The Canadian Press just named Trudeau as Canada's "Newsmaker of the Year." Unlike the hard-fought Oct. 19 election, this wasn't much of a contest. He was the runaway choice of news editors and directors across the country. This award speaks volumes about Canada's new prime minister and his politics.

Trudeau's electoral success has been credited to his performance both on the campaign trail and televised election debates exceeding the lowered expectations created by Conservative advertisements. He made many promises durin the election, many of which will be difficult to implement, especially those on electoral reform and the many recommendations of the Truth and Reconcilation Commission.

One election promise that Trudeau implemented immediately was to admit 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of 2015. Although later scaled down to 10,000 by December 31, he is still pressing for the full 25,000 to be admitted by the end of March, 2016. His government has now promised that another 25,000 will come to Canada by the end of that year.

There is now a new tone in Ottawa that differs markedly from that of the previous Conservative government which was marked by divisiveness and the politics of fear. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper had taken a page out of the playbook of the Republicans (especially Donald Trump) in the US in order to win reelection.

But Canadians soundly rejected the politics of fear and opted instead for the "sunny ways" of Trudeau. This phrase was first used 120 years earlier by former Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier and became synonymous with his political style. Trudeau has now adopted it as the slogan for a new era in Canadian politics.

The contrast between Trudeau and Trump is striking. While Trump would not accept any Syrian refugees because they might be terrorists, Trudeau welcomed the first plane load to Canada at the airport in Toronto. While the passengers on that plane were Christians, who could more easily and quickly pass the screening process, future planes will be filled with Muslims. No doubt Trump and many Americans would be horrified, but this is Canada.

Welcoming refugees is part of the DNA of Canadians. While Canada has not always welcomed them -- think of the boatload of 907 Jewish refugees who were turned away in 1939 -- it has done much better, especially with the Vietnamese boat people beginning in 1978 and continuing until the early 1990s, as well as many other groups over the years.

The Conservatives did everything they could to discourage the reception of refugees, but this changed with the new Liberal regime. Now Canadians express their pride once more in being a welcoming nation. Many have volunteered to sponsor families or individuals and have been extremely generous in providing housing and the necessary funds for the resettlement of refugees.

Trudeau has captured the hopes of Canadians and helped to make them a reality. This is in the spirit of Christmas, which celebrates God's gift of his Son in order to restore his creation. Christ's incarnation is the greatest example of love that the world has ever experienced: "For God so loved the world  that he gave his one and only Son . . ." John3:16. Our response should be similar: a display of love for our neighbors, whether they live nearby or far away.

Trudeau's birthdate may have contributed to the spirit that pervades his government: he was born on December 25, 1971. Trudeau's father was a devout Roman Catholic, but Justin describes himself as a lapsed Catholic; he was baptised and attended mass regularly as a child, but now no longer attends church, except perhaps on special occassions.

In spite of this, Trudeau better expresses the love for the neighbor that Christ commands from his disciples than Trump, who was baptised in a Presbyterian Church and claims that he is Presbyterian, although he has also stated that he attends Marble Collegiate Church (which is part of the Reformed Church in America); this is where he married his first wife. That church, however, does not consider him an active member.

While it is dangerous to judge Trudeau and Trump as to which best personifies the spirit of Christmas, I would conclude that Trudeau wins hands down. Not only in his response to the refugee crisis but also in the other policies that he has enunciated and vows to implement Trudeau behaves as a Christian. The same cannot be said of Trump. They may both be Christians who do not actively attend church, but their behavior indicates where their faith truly lies.

Many Canadians, whether they or Christians or not, identify with the generous spirit of Trudeau and his government and reject the fearfulness that Trump generates. They rejected Harper when he used the same tactic, and sent him and his party out to pasture. 

I hope and pray that Americans will reject Trump and his deplorable politics. How can any American who is also a Christian support this man whose words and behavior are the antithesis of what it means to be a follower of Christ? Christ would not approve of what Trump is currently saying and doing. "By their fruits you will recognize them" (Matthew 7:16). 

I wish every one of you a blessed Christmas!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

New impressions of Cuba

I have been to Cuba three time now, and yet every time I see different aspects of life in Cuba. This time, my impressions were of a country that is quickly changing, even though it has a long way to go before it becomes what many Cubans are hoping for.

Admittedly, an all-inclusive resort is hardly the best place to witness the new Cuba that is slowly dawning. Yet every time I come back, I see more signs of change. Cuba still has a way to go, but it is heading in the right direction.

The first time I went was when I broke my arm only half an hour after arriving at a resort. I ended up that night in a Cuban hospital in Santa Clara, I wrote up this experience in a posting on October 2011. For a day and a half I was a patient I confess that I received excellent care.

When I returned to the resort, I was able to enjoy long walks on the beach, even though I could not go swimming because my arm was in a sling. The food was not the greatest. As I have told many people since, "This is Cuba!"

I concluded that piece with a remark about Cuban hospitals and doctors:"I grew to appreciate the Cuban medical system. The doctors and nurses are among the best in the world, even if their equipment was old and obsolete. They are well trained and in high demand elsewhere in the world." 

Finally, in that post I asked myself: "Would I go back to Cuba again?"  And I answered: "Definitely! But next time I hope to avoid Cuban hospitals." On subsequent trips I have avoided Cuban hospitals, but I got to enjoy Cuba very much. Cuba is justly famous for its beaches and its hospitality. That helps to explain why I have come back several times.

Hemingway's home in Cuba

My second visit was to a resort close to Havana since my wife and I, together with some good friends, wanted to see the capital city of Cuba. This resort was the worst we have ever been to. The facilities were inadequate and the food was terrible. We vowed never to come to this resort again.

Havana was interesting, even though it rained cats and dogs the day we went. Unfortunately, too many streets were torn up for repairs, which only made matters worse. A few days later, the four of us visited Hemingway's home, which is near Havana. This is now a museum dedicated to this great American author who loved Cuba.

The latest trip was the best yet. The resort was excellent and the food was the best we have ever  had in Cuba. Even if it lacked the variety that one expects in many Caribbean countries, the quality was good. The service too was great.

We spent a day in Havana again, and again it rained. But this time the street were finished and we had a chance to see the main parts of old Havana on foot. Later we toured some of the newer parts as well in a 1955 Chevrolet.

The 1955 Chevy that took us to Havana

There are lots of vintage cars still on Cuban roads, but many of those I saw are intended for tourists. The bodies have been repaired, and new diesel motors and brakes now replace the originals. Diesel, because diesel fuel is only half the price of gasoline. But these cars don't come cheap; after a complete restoration, they can cost as much as a new vehicle.

As tourists who stay in resorts, I am hardly qualified to speak about what is happening in Cuba; I can only offer impressions based on a very short stay and a very small sample of Cubans that I talked to.

Nevertheless, I am impressed by the progress that Cuba is making. There is still a lot of poverty, but there are also many signs of improvement. Salaries are pitiful, especially for those who have no access to hard currency. A pair of shoes can cost a whole months salary for those who are paid in Cuban pesos or "national coin" as it is also called.

Yet a new middle class is readily apparent. I met a few Cubans who were using the facilities at our resort.  I also a fair number of new cars.  And a fair number of guests in the hotels we visited spoke Spanish, although I did not inquire if they were Cubans.

Most revealing to me were the churches. In spite of decades of Communism and repression of religious freedom, some churches are open. Atheism was not able to destroy the church in Cuba any more than it could in other countries.  

Pope Francis conducted a mass in Plaza de la Revolución in Havana

The Christian faith has not died out there. Many people still attend mass regularly, even if many outward signs of piety are discouraged and many churches were closed or converted to other uses. The same thing happened in other formerly Communist countries; now they are being returned and restored to their former use.

Thousands welcomed Pope Francis during his recent visit to Cuba, where he delivered a message of reconciliation for the former Cold War foes, while carefully avoiding controversy on the US trade embargo. Cubans wanted him to condemn it.

Yet he did plead for greater freedom for the church. He is widely credited for facilitating the new agreement between Cuba and the US that led to the reopening of their embassies, the easing of the embargo and opportunities for Cubans to travel out of the country.

The US embassy building in Havana is a visible symbol of a new era in the relations between the two countries. The easing of the embargo has been widely welcomed by Cubans who hope that it may finally end so that their economic situation may improve.

Cuba is only 145 km from the nearest point in the US

But Cubans have mixed feelings about this. They welcome the arrival of Americans in the near future with both joy and dread: joy for a flood of US dollars to help stimulate the economy, but they dread the drugs and guns that the Americans will also bring.

The Cuban Revolution ended some of evil that is attached to the American presence before 1959 and thus Cubans have little willingness to see that repeated. They are still angry about the 1962 Bay of Pigs invasion which was intended to overthrow the Castro regime.

In the National Hotel I witnessed photos of all the foreign dignitaries, including Americans, who have stayed in the hotel. To me, however, these photos resemble a rogues' gallery. Just outside the hotel I saw how Cubans interpret the Bay of Pigs.

Cubans are not alone in fearing a new American invasion. Many of the people at our resort, the majority of whom are Canadians, told me that they were visiting now before the Americans would ruin everything. I confess that I shared this concern.

Cuba is rightfully praised for its human right's policy and for its health and educational system. Cuba sends many medical personnel overseas to help train people there. That help has been gratefully received in many countries.

The resort where we stayed this time in Cuba

As to what will happen in Cuba after the death of Fidel Castro, people can only speculate. Some Cubans whom I spoke to expect even greater reforms than those that have occurred until now under the presidency of Raul Castro who took over from his brother in 2008. Yet the very fact that they were willing to reveal this to a foreigner is an indication of the changes that have already taken place.

I hope and pray for many more and greater changes so that hardworking Cubans may finally enjoy a better life than they do now. But Cubans have much to be thankful for. The Cuban Revolution was not the unmitigated disaster that the Cuban exiles in the US have portrayed it as.

In Cuba I found a people who hope for a brighter future for themselves and their children. May God grant them that! They richly deserve it!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What would Jesus do in response to the Syrian refugee crisis?

A few decades ago, as you may remember, some Christians wore bracelets marked with the letters WWJD, meaning, What Would Jesus Do? Although no one can claim to know what Jesus would do in every situation, the Bible does tell us much about what Jesus said and did, and that should be enough to guide us in determining what Jesus would do in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Yet why are Christians so divided on the issue of Syrian refugees? Even before the Paris bombings, people were already divided. The flood of refugees fleeing the war in Syria made many people, especially those in Europe, apprehensive. There were too many refugees and not just Syrians. Thus, some pleaded for the borders to be shut while others wanted to welcome the refugees with open arms.

After Paris, the division became even worse. Apprehension crossed the Atlantic and intensified during the crossing. In the US, the two sides are readily apparent in a video put out by The Young Turks. If Fox represents one side of the debate, TYT is clearly on the other about what to do with Syrian refugees.

Fox accents security while TYT advocates love, yet both claim to be Christian. Politically, however, they find themselves on opposing sides. Thus, it  is not surprising that they would give diametrically opposing answers to the question of whether Jesus would take in Syrian refugees. They certainly do.

Fox represents a conservative brand of Christianity, the latter that of a more liberal/progressive form of the Christian faith. While there is room for Christians to disagree on many matters, love ought be central in what drives us in living the Christian life, not fear and certainly not hatred.

Most Christians would lean to one side or the other in the Fox-TYT debate and, therefore, answer this question very differently. In discussions with friends and acquaintances since Paris, I have heard both positions presented eloquently and passionately.

Many are concerned with security. They are genuinely afraid of terrorists gaining admission to their country by concealing themselves among this flood of refugees. It is not that they are lacking in compassion; many have become increasingly concerned about the plight of Christians in the Middle East, although often their compassion does not extend to Muslims since many equate terrorism with Islam.

But fear seems to trump love, even when that fear is disguised by appeals to delay the admission of refugees. However, I found that I was able to refute some of those who were concerned with security. They were open to my arguments that their fear was misplaced and that they should, instead, place their trust in God.

My position is no secret to those who follow my blog. In the two previous posts, I have argued that as Christians we must welcome the stranger and not be afraid of the refugees/strangers in our midst. Everything we do should be motivated by love, not tolerance but genuine, heartfelt love. Love of God and love of neighbor canot be divided, and neither should we be.

According to President Obama, the US will accept only 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2015. Even this number is too many for the Republicans in Congress who, in response to what happened in Paris, have voted to make it more difficult for them to enter the country. I would ask them where their love is.

In addition, more than half of the US’s governors have stated they will no longer provide placement for Syrian refugees, arguing that they pose too great a risk to national security. New Jersey governor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie said that his state will not take in any refugees,"not even orphans under the age of five." Similarly, I would also ask them where their love is.

The American backlash against refugees is based largely on the fear that a Paris-style attack could be replicated in America if the US began to shoulder its burden of the refugee crisis. But they should first become aware of this important fact: of the 784,395 refugees admitted by the US, only three have ben arrested on terrorism charges.

Another article uses an even larger base figure but arrives at the same conclusion: three. It also argues that we should distinguish carefully between refugees, who are vetted extensively while still overseas, and asylum seekers, who are vetted only after they arrive. Terrorists are not likely to wait in a refugee camp for three years while waiting. Instead, they will find other avenues to enter a country.

A similar backlash exists in Canada, where newly-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by December 31. One premier of a Canadian promise has articulated the mood of many Canadians when he urged the federal government not to bring in refugees to hastily out of fear of the threat of terrorism.

But such a fear is misguided because the process of relocating refugees to North America is very different from the way that refugees currently arrive in Europe where vetting takes place upon admission. The Syrians who are flown to the US and Canada will be the most heavily vetted group of people that are currently allowed into both countries.

Even then, a majority of Americans do not approve of more Syrian entering the US. The breakdown by parties is very revealing. Republicans by a wide margin disapprove. They also support the use of overwhelming military force to fight terrorism.

The extent of the division among Christians is apparent in another poll conducted earlier this fall which showed that 42 percent of Protestants in the US approved of admitting more refugees into the country while 54 percent disapproved. Fifty-nine percent of Catholics approved while 38 percent disapproved. America is divided politically, a division that is reflected in many denominations.

In the US, the entire vetting process is expected to last from 18 months to two years. The Canadian process will be much shorter if these refugees are to arrive by the end of this year. Both countries want to vet the refugees while they are still overseas.

Many Canadians have already said that they won't complain or hold it against Trudeau if the process takes a month or two longer, as long as the necessary security measures are in place and the refugees have been properly vetted. Security is their main concern. Note: the Canadian government just decided to admit only 10,000 by the end of this year; the rest will arrive by February. Loud applause!

The Canadian government has already decided to admit only women, children, and families while single males will be excluded because of security concerns, While this seems like a reasonable tradeoff so that both compassion and security can be rightfully expressed and dealt with, it is not since these single men are also fleeing war and very few, if any, are potential terrorists.

Many Christians in Canada will be pleased that their government is committing to bring in 900 refugees per say from Syria. These refugees are currently in camps in Lebanon, where the vetting process is taking place. These exiles will then be flown primarily to Montreal and Toronto.

The cost of resettling them is estimated to cost 1.2 billion Canadian dollars (about $900 million) over six years. This cost is reasonable, at least considering the large number of people who need to be processed, airlifted, and resettled. Canada has already resettled 3,089 Syrian refugees between January 1 and November 15 of this year.

Those who do arrive will immediately receive the health benefits that all Canadians enjoy. They will not be labeled refugees but newcomers and made to feel at home. Canada is a country of immigrants and it enjoys a good and longstanding reputation for showing hospitality for people from many countries, notwithstanding the actions of the previous Conservative government.

Yet even the 25,000 Syrians coming to Canad is only a drop in the bucket as compared to the number of Syrians still in the Middle East. Nearly 80,000 Syrians have been granted asylum in the EU so far this year, but this does not yet account for the large number who want to move to Europe. So far this year, Germany registered the arrival of 243,721 asylum seekers from Syria. That country expects to receive more than a million asylum seekers by the end of 2015.

What most people in Europe and North America are unaware of is that Syrian refugees are generally afraid of exactly the same thing that Americans are: Islamist terrorism. Many are fleeing areas held by the Islamic State, and they are doing so in contravention of ISIS which has repeated condemned refugees for fleeing ISIS-controlled areas.

So, I urge not only Canadians but also Americans as well as citizens of other countries to urge their respective governments to do even more so that many more Syrian refugees can find new homes where they can feel safe.

These refugees want security as much as we do. But their security must not become the price they have to pay for our own security. That would be selfish. Jesus was anything but selfish when he became one of us so that we might be united with him. He emptied himself of his heavenly glory so that we might inherit that glory together with him our brother (Hebrews 2:9-11).

There are at least twelve verses from the Scriptures about loving immigrants, refugees, and displaced people. These are verses that all Christians should take to heart when confronted with the issue of Syrian refugees. From the verses alone, it is clear how Jesus would respond to this refugee crisis, or any other for that matter.

We are commanded to love our neighbor, but what does that mean?  Galatians 5:14 explains: "For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself."  If we ask, as the teacher of the law did in Luke 10:29-37: "And who is my neighbor?"  We read that Jesus responded by saying:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise." 
If you disagree with Jesus, please let me know. Of course, you may disagree with my interpretation of how he would respond to the Syrian refugee crisis, but you may not disagree with him. For me, the answer is crystal clear.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

What should we do about the jihadists in our midst?

How do we deal with those who are responsible for the Paris bombings in which 129 people died and another 352 injured, some very seriously? The Islamic State has already claimed responsibility in an online statement that appeared in Arabic and French. Although it appears to be genuine, it was not immediately possible to confirm its authenticity.

The ISIS statement mocked France's involvement in air attacks on suspected ISIS bases in Syria and Iraq, noting that France's air power was "of no use to them in the streets and rotten alleys of Paris." What lies behind this defiant language? What motivated this outrage? And why Paris?

Are these bombings simply a response of ISIS to the coalition bombings in the Middle East or is there more involved? I suspect that there is more. The goal of ISIS is not simply punitive, but it wants to generate division, discord, and fear in Western countries.

ISIS wants to up the ante in this war by bringing it to Paris, the capital of France and an iconic symbol of the struggle against ISIS. Almost 1,500 of the coalition troops in the Middle East are French, which is the largest European contribution.

According to French prosecutors, eight terrorists were killed, seven of whom were suicide bombers, A total of three groups of extremists mounted the attacks. Authorities are now investigating a fourth band of terrorists who may have fled Paris and may be hiding in Belgium.

The French newspaper Le Monde reported that one terrorist has been identified as a French citizen in his 30’s. Meanwhile, a Syrian passport was found on the ground at the French stadium, one of the seven sites hit by attacks. The passport belonged to a migrant who was registered as a refugee in Greece in October, according to Le Figaro, another French daily.

A Belgian official said two of the seven people wired with suicide vests were French men living in Brussels, and among those arrested was another French citizen living in the Belgian capital. The new information highlighted growing fears of homegrown terrorism in a country that has exported more jihadis than any other in Europe. All three gunmen in the January attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket were French.

Francois Hollande, President of France, declared three days of national mourning. He squarely put the blame for the attacks on ISIS, The visibly shaken Hollande called the carnage "an act of war that was committed by a terrorist army, a jihadist army against France."

The war with ISIS is not a conventional war, but something much more dangerous; this war involves jihadists who are living in our midst. They are intent upon destroying the influence of Western society, which they perceive as decadent and evil, and establishing a caliphate in the Middle East. They cannot be fought in conventional ways, with armies, but 

ISIS is prepared to use whatever tools it takes in order to accomplish this goal. Suicide bombings are a new tactic for ISIS in Europe. In the Paris bombings, ISIS seems to have employed not only Syrians who may have an ax to grind with the coalition but also French citizens who can blend in well since they speak the language fluently and not attract unnecessary attention.

The suicide bombers were unable to enter the stadium because of extra security measures

These jihadists are the most dangerous since they blend in so well. They are also the most terrifying since it is difficult to fight against them. All these jihadists are committed to the cause of ISIS, which wants to drive a wedge between the people of France. For them, religion is a weapon to turn the French against all Muslims, making the latter feel even more isolated and open to conversion to the ISIS cause. 

Hollande wisely called for the French people to remain calm and united, explaining, "What the terrorists want is to scare us and fill us with dread. There is indeed reason to be afraid. There is dread, but in the face of this dread, there is a nation that knows how to defend itself, that knows how to mobilize its forces and, once again, will defeat the terrorists."

Yet the question remains: How will the French defeat the terrorists? I do not doubt the resolve of the French, but the problem is bigger than France. President Barack Obama described the bombings as "an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share." 

The universal values Obama is referring to are "liberté and égalité and fraternité," these were originally espoused in the French Revolution. They are inimical to everything that ISIS stands for. They are shared by people everywhere, according to Obama, and, therefore, ought to be defended.

Obama promised, "We’re going to do whatever it takes to work with the French people and with nations around the world to bring these terrorists to justice, and to go after any terrorist networks that go after our people."

Bringing the terrorists to justice will not be an easy task. Some of the bombers were killed in the attacks and others may yet be captured. But ISIS, as a whole, is difficult to fight.

Let us not begin by casting suspicion on all refugees coming from Syria and thus preventing many of them to be resettled somewhere in Europe or another continent. That would not be an appropriate response. They must be carefully vetted, but they must not be condemned as a group because of the connections of a few with ISIS.

Nor should governments around the world respond by severely limiting freedoms in the name of security. After hearing about the Paris bombings, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said as much when he warned that security measures should not detract from the freedoms that Canadians enjoy.

Yet there is a danger that the security forces in many countries will be supplemented extensively and granted powers that would effectively turn these countries into a police state. The French forces were so overextended after the Charlie Hebdo attack only ten months ago that they were unable to prevent these bombings.

Hollande's vow to wage war against ISIS does not bode well for the future of France or for many other countries. In Canada, Trudeau promised to revise Bill C-51,  the Anti-terrorism Act. 2015, which granted enormous powers to Canada's security agencies without the necessary oversight to prevent misuse of those powers. 

Another inappropriate response would be to intensify the coalition bombing missions in Syria and Iraq. ISIS cannot be bombed out of existence, although bombing may limit the spread of ISIS-held territory or even reverse it somewhat.

Trudeau is thus faced with an enormous challenge. He promised during the election to end Canada's contribution to these bombing missions, but now there may be public pressure in Canada for him to reconsider his plan. I hope indeed that he sticks to his plan and pulls out the planes.

This does not mean that Canada cannot provide humanitarian aid. It can and must do that. Also the training the forces of some Middle Eastern countries, which Canada is already doing, should be continued, provided that Canadian forces do do not involve themselves in direct conflict with ISIS.

Personally, I am against Canada's participation at all in the Middle East since the problems there are much too complex and ought to be solved by the people most directly involved. Western involvement serves the cause of ISIS by confirming to all Muslims its claim that it is fighting the evil West. Other terrorist groups, such as Boko Haram, make similar claims.

The coalition bombings may help to diminish the territory of ISIS, but at the same time they create new ISIS recruits in Syria when civilians suffer what is euphemistically dismissed as "collateral damage." In the West, the bombings have created support for ISIS as well, especially among some young people.

The proper response should not involve violence. We have to find non-violent ways to deal with the threat of ISIS. We also have to search for ways to provide security without sacrificing liberty. We must learn to make friends with Arabs and Muslims and not vilify them. Vilification is a form of racism.

Racism is also evident in the way the West is treating the Paris bombings. If they had taken place in a city in the Middle East, the world would hardly pay attention. Days before the Paris attack two suicide bombers killed 48 people in a Shiite neighborhood of Beirut, but that event received little attention in the world press as compared to what happened in Paris. That event was dismissed as sectarian violence. It doesn't affect us directly.

The same thing happened after 19 people were killed in Baghdad. Before that there was Ankara, where more than 100 people died. Paris attracts more attention because it brings the war much closer to home. This is now too close for comfort! After Paris, even Canada is no longer safe.

So what can we do? As I wrote in last week's post, we must learn to accept the stranger in our midst. That is the best response to the jihadists who threaten the West. It may seen naive to speak about love in this context, but I assure you that is what we must display. Not a declaration of war.

We must not fear them, because if we do they have won. Instead, we must find a loving way to resolve the problem. Such a resolution involves repentance on our part: a willingness to change our hearts. That will not be easy. There are no easy solutions to the challenge posed by ISIS except to respond in love.

A memorial to all the people who were massacred in the Bataclan Theater 

The words "Kyrie eleison" (Lord, have mercy) are found in the liturgy of many churches. What most people don't realize is that mercy here does not refer to justice or acquittal, which is a very Western interpretation, but to God's loving-kindness and compassion for us, his children. In his love, God forgives us, and he expects us to do the same. "Make love, not war!"

If God extends such love to us, ought we not try to emulate this love? Is this not what the love of neighbor means? This is a hard saying, the disciples of Jesus said to him. Indeed, the command to love is a hard saying, but there is no alternative for the Christian.

Therefore, I propose that we use diplomacy. Instead of revving up the coalition bombings, let us seek alternatives. I realize that this flies in the face of what many voices are crying for today: to escalate the war. But that is not the solution that I wish for as a Christian.

We can best respond to the jihadists in our midst by showing love to Arabs and Muslims, not by further alienating them. We can begin by welcoming the refugees that are already banging on our doors. The war in Syria, in which many Western nations are now involved, caused the flood. Thus, we must welcome these refugees for that reason alone. But our primary motivation must be love.

Proper screening will be necessary, but that should not deter us from issuing a warm welcome to them. If we lock our doors, as some countries have already, we demonstrate our lack of faith in God in whom alone we must place our trust. God is our security, not our armed forces. He alone can drive away our fears and the darkness that surrounds us.

May God bless France and the rest of the world and grant us his peace!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Welcoming the stranger: a religious perspective on the migrant crisis

How should we treat migrants and refugees? This is not an abstract question, but it is one that everyone must ask themselves today. Ever since the picture of three-year-old Alan Kurdi seared itself into our memories, the problem of what to do with the flood of men, women, and children who are entering Europe on a daily basis needs to be addressed. Even those of us who live far away from where this crisis is playing out must answer this question. All of us must welcome the stranger who appears in our midst. This is what our faith teaches us; indeed, every religion does. Today I want to offer a religious perspective on this crisis.

The Problem

The refugee crisis in Europe shows no signs of lessening up. A daily flow of about 8,000 refugees to Europe is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, the United Nations warns. More than 5,000 refugees and migrants -- the majority of them from Syrian -- arrive every day on Greek islands close to Turkey. That flow could continue during the winter if the weather remains good and the borders open.

About four million Syrian refugees are still stranded in squalid camps in the Middle East. Many are in dire poverty and many are longing for a new life in Europe. Some are economic migrants, but all of them are fleeing the never-ending conflicts in that part of the world.

About half a million migrants -- mostly from Syria and other conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa -- have already arrived in Europe this year. Deep divisions surfaced in the EU recently when ministers agreed to relocate about 120,000 refugees across Europe.

Several countries dispute the proposed distribution plan. Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia voted against it. They resent the imposition of quotas, arguing that they are ill-equipped to integrate non-EU migrants.

Note that the total is approximately 120,000, which is nowhere enough to deal with the current crisis

Many of these migrants are Muslims. Hungary, for example, claims that it cannot admit more Muslim migrants because it doesn't want them to threaten its Christian character, which is ironic since it and many other Central-European countries are thoroughly secularized.

Many refugees are determined to reach Germany, whose Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has urged EU partners to take in more refugees. Germany promised to admit at least 800,000 asylum seekers by the end of this year, but many Germans oppose this plan. The citizens of many other EU-countries are also opposed to the migrants.

These Middle Eastern migrants are only the most visible tip of an humungous iceberg. There are also thousands crossing the Mediterranean from Africa. Millions are on the march from many countries. They will be joined by millions more in the next few years.

These are not just numbers. Behind every number is a man, woman, or child. Whether they are migrants or refugees doesn't matter. Each of them has experienced the horror of fleeing the country of their birth whether for reasons of violent conflict, poverty, or the opportunity to advance themselves.

The Solution

Is this the proper response? Is this how the people of Europe ought to address the plight of the migrants? If their Christian faith still means anything to them, they should know that the Bible teaches a very different attitude to those who are in distress.

Instead of turning them away, all Europeans must welcome these strangers. In case they don't, they need to be reminded of their own history. After WWII, millions of Germans, Ukrainians, Serbs, and other nationalities were kicked out of their homes and wandered for years throughout Europe. Now the direction of the wandering is reversed. The remnants of their faith ought to be revived at the same time. 

All three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, agree on how strangers should be treated. In fact, all these religions are united in teaching the importance of welcoming and showing hospitality to strangers, and they prohibit mistreating or oppressing the strangers in their midst. According to all these faiths, doing good to strangers is considered an act of righteousness.

The Hebrew Bible, or what Christians call the Old Testament, commands justice and love for strangers, including giving them food and clothing. It also orders good treatment and love for strangers or aliens as they are also termed. Moreover, it forbids wronging, mistreating and oppressing them in any way.

Let me cite only the following verses, although there are more with the same message:
21 "Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt." (Exodus 22:20-21)
33 "'When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him.  34 The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God." (Leviticus 19:33-34).
9 "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.  10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.'" (Zechariah 7:9-10) 
 Jesus teaches this message too, as do the other New Testament writers after him:
 31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.  32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'  37 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'  40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'  41 "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'  44 "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'  45 "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'  46 "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:31-46)
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2)

Abraham welcomes strangers (14th century)

Islam teaches this message as well. In Islam, a stranger is referred to as “Ibn Al-Sabil” (wayfarer). The Qur’an considers it an act of righteousness to give money to wayfarers and it even orders doing good to them.
"Righteousness is not that you turn your faces toward the east or the west, but [true] righteousness is [in] one who believes in Allah , the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets and gives wealth, in spite of love for it, to relatives, orphans, the needy, the traveler…" (Al-Baqarah 2:177)
"Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side, the traveler…" (An-Nisaa’ 4:36)
A well-known hadith reports that the Prophet Muhammad saying that God would punish those who do not supply surplus water to any travelers they meet. Moreover, alms must be provided even to those who are rich.

Even many secularized Europeans know what the proper response to migrants ought to be. One does not have to be a believer in order to feel compassion for the countless migrants pouring across their borders. Compassion is not exclusive to people of faith. In fact, non-believers can be more loving than many of those who profess to be believers.

Although they know better, the nominally Christian countries of Europe and the Muslim-majority countries of the Middle East can and must do much more than some of them are currently doing. The same can be said about many other nations elsewhere in the world, regardless of the development. In response to the current crisis, all nations ought to as much as their circumstances permit.

People of faith ought to be ashamed of what some of them are saying and doing. Would that these verses from the Bible and Qur'an fan the tiny flames that might still remain in their otherwise cold hearts and make them burn passionately to provide the help that is needed. This is what God requires of them.

My own nation, Canada, is not doing enough. The former government's promises to bring in more refugees rang hollow, largely because of the stringent security screening that was required. The new government is expected to admit more refugees. Even if it is unable to bring in the promised 25,000 by the end of this year, that will probably happen by early 2016. Yet even that amount is a drop in the bucket.

The majority of Syrian refugees are currently living in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.  These countries are unable to accept them long term. So where can they go? Many of them would either like to return home or move elsewhere. Yet, until the conflict in Syria ceases, they will not be able to go home. If they do emigrate, what country will welcome them?

Less than 1%

The alternative that many have chosen is to go to Europe or some other part of the more highly developed world. Is it unreasonable to ask these countries to admit 0.5% of these people? The combined population of these countries is about 1,25 billion. Surely, they can help them!

If every country took in an average of 0.5%, that would amount to 6.25 million migrants. That sum would likely be spread over several years, but it should take care of the current crop of migrants. Less developed countries would also take some of them, and many would return home.

In succeeding years, with more migrants expected to come from elsewhere, the more developed countries might have to create additional room and admit a further 0.5%, again spread over several years, for a total of perhaps 13 million. That doesn't take care of all migrants, but it provides many with a new home. For Canada, that would represent a total of 350,000 migrants. Currently, Canada already admits more than 250,000 immigrants annually.

In addition, efforts should be made to put an end to violent conflicts in many parts of the world and to raise the standard of living in many countries from which the migrants stem. These are the primary ways of stopping the constant flood.

But as long as the flood of migrants continues, other countries must welcome them. They are strangers who ought to be welcomed with open arms. That is what all religions teach, and now their adherents must put these teachings into practice when migrants arrive at their borders.