New mission territory: the United States

It's easy to think of "missions" as short for "foreign missions."

When we think of poverty, when we think of people trapped in an economy with few or no opportunities, when we think of places desperately in need of education and better nutrition, we think of developing nations. When we think of people starving spiritually, we don't often think of, say, Montana.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, however, has a powerful reminder that the mission fields are much closer to home: Nearly half of the United States is made up of dioceses that are classified as mission territory, or "home missions," meaning they "lack the resources to provide basic pastoral ministry to their populations."

While it is stunning to see the map with pins placed all over it, another map — this one with the mission territory dioceses shaded green — better shows the extent of the problem. Entire states, including Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, all require support from the Catholic Home Missions program.

In 2014, Catholic Home Missions gave out $8.45 million in grants to 84 struggling dioceses. The annual appeal for the fund is the last weekend in April.

'His freedom is coupled with a deep sadness'

Stephen Hale, the chief executive of Refugee Action, writes in the United Kingdom edition of The Huffington Post that well-intentioned immigration policies don't necessarily work during a refugee crisis like the one being experienced in Europe.

"Our Government currently applies very restrictive rules that determine how refugees can bring their loved ones to live with them here in Britain," Hale writes. "Too often these rules ignore the complex relationships that affect families torn apart by war — so that siblings, whose parents are missing or dead, cannot be reunited across borders and grandparents are not entitled to look after their grandchildren."

Most immigration laws are set up to limit immigration, making it difficult or impossible to use the entry of one family member to leverage others' entry, which makes sense in that context. But it does not make sense when you have entire families fleeing violence and horror beyond imagination.

Hale writes of a Syrian man named Omar and the plight he is in because of these policies: "He is at pains to express his gratitude for the support and welcome he has received since he arrived [in Britain], but for Omar his freedom is coupled with a deep sadness too, as his family remain stranded in Turkey. While family reunion rules might allow his wife and teenage son to join him, the outlook for other members of his family — dependent on his care and support — is bleak."

Yet another example of policies not keeping up with reality and of bureaucracy forgetting about humanity.

No going back

March 31 was the birthdate of the late civil rights giant Cesar Chavez. In a 1984 speech, Chavez detailed the many problems farm workers faced, but noted that change — dramatic, societal change — had begun, and that once that kind of change begins, there is no going back.

In these days of uncertainty, when it seems every other week, a state legislature is trying to take away someone's rights, a government body is cutting help for the poor or a politician makes it harder for someone to vote, Chavez' words still ring true — and give me hope.

"Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed," he said. "You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore."

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.] 

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