On Sept. 6, 2015, Pope Francis declared, “I make an appeal. … May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every shrine welcome one [refugee] family, beginning with my diocese of Rome. … The Gospel calls us to be ‘neighbors’ with the abandoned, and to give them concrete hope.”
Soon after Pope Francis’ call, the Vatican sponsored two refugee families and has helped resettle many since then. The following year, the U.S. Department of State released a toolkit titled “How Campuses are Helping Refugees,” which called on American universities to take an active role in the refugee resettlement process. That toolkit was removed from the State Department website just a few weeks ago, indicating the new administration’s shifting policy toward refugees.
It is time for American universities to heed Pope Francis’ call. We have a humanitarian crisis on our hands, as war and conflict have forced families to flee their homes in search of new beginnings, free from the violence that plagues their homelands. There are more than 21 million refugees registered with the United Nations worldwide, with nearly 5 million from Syria alone. According to the United Nations, these are the highest levels of displacement on record.
Georgetown University has the opportunity to help change the global trend of indifference toward refugees. Certainly, Catholic universities fit under the category of “religious communities” in Pope Francis’ call, yet not one of nearly 200 U.S. Catholic colleges or universities has stepped up to sponsor a refugee or refugee family.
As the nation’s oldest Catholic university, Georgetown needs to lead by example and take an active role in the refugee resettlement process.
To date, only a few American universities have answered Pope Francis’ call. Guilford College, a Quaker school in North Carolina, and Wake Forest University, a secular school in the same state, have committed to host and support families in their respective communities. In our area, local parishes have also begun to heed Pope Francis’ call.
Holy Trinity Parish, our next-door neighbor in Georgetown, was matched last fall with a refugee family of eight from Syria. The family was scheduled to arrive to the United States on Feb. 6, but the recent executive order cancelled their plans. Following the court orders lifting the ban, the family was able to reschedule their travel, and earlier last week they arrived safely in Washington, ready to begin their new lives in the United States.
Georgetown has the opportunity to spark a movement of support and compassion during this time of crisis for refugees around the world. American colleges and universities are well equipped to aid in the refugee resettlement process, and Georgetown, in staying true to its Jesuit mission, has an obligation to lead through action. Our university should set a high bar for other Catholic — and non-Catholic — universities to follow.
To begin this process and to lead through action, Georgetown can follow in Holy Trinity’s footsteps. The university can partner with Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area, the agency authorized by the federal government to resettle refugees in our area.
As a sponsor in its Good Neighbor program, Georgetown could commit to a short-term financial plan of approximately three months and establish a student task force that will assist primarily with supply drives, cultural orientation and mentorship. Students would have the opportunity to organize supply drives prior to the family’s arrival, in addition to leading the orientation and mentorship efforts, as the family members adjust to their new homes and begin their journey toward self-sufficiency. Sponsoring a family can be a collaborative process that engages our entire campus community.
Georgetown is positioned to make a meaningful impact on the global refugee crisis. By sponsoring a family, Georgetown can help to lay the foundation for other universities around the country and around the world to follow suit. All large-scale movements must begin with a single bold step. Let us help spark a movement of support and compassion for refugees around the world. Georgetown students and administrators, let us take that step, and let us heed the call, together.
Max Wolfgang Rosner is a junior in the College. THE ROUND TABLE appears every other Friday as a rotating column between members of the Knights of Columbus.
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