As the Diocese of Green Bay celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, I find myself reflecting on its history. Knowing its stories of the past helps us to understand who we are, as a diocese today. A key part of our identity, as the church in northeast Wisconsin, has been our commitment to serve those in need. This service is beautifully illustrated in a story I heard recently that I want to share with you.
In the early 1960s, communist revolutionaries took control of Cuba, and many Cuban parents were concerned for the welfare of their children. This sparked the beginning of “Operación Pedro Pan,” a time when Cuban families sent more than 14,000 children to the United States to escape communist indoctrination. The Diocese of Green Bay played a role in this dramatic story, welcoming 37 Cuban children to the St. Joseph Home for Children (currently the Chancery building on our diocesan campus).
In 2002, these children (now adults) presented a plaque to the diocese and community of Green Bay in gratitude for the support offered to them over the years. The plaque, which hangs in BonaHall, reads, “The community welcomed us with open arms and hearts, took us into their homes, made us feel loved, and a part of their family. Thirty-seven homesick children found a second home. Words can never express how deeply you touched our hearts.”
I share this story, not to pat ourselves on the back, but rather to remind us of the situation in our world today. Many people today face the difficult decision to leave their home in search of a better life. This unfortunate reality provides us once again with a beautiful opportunity to help our neighbors in need, just as the church did back then.
Through the years, I am proud to say, the church has responded to this call. We have played a critical role in welcoming those, who, like the Cuban children, flee their country due to violence and persecution. In 1975, the Diocese of Green Bay officially opened a refugee office which still operates today through our Department of Catholic Charities, working closely with the federal government to assist refugees in resettlement of their lives.
Recently, however, our ability to provide this assistance has been restricted. Due to changes in federal policy, no refugees have been resettled in the Diocese of Green Bay so far this year. The United States, which has historically been a leader in welcoming refugees, is on pace to resettle fewer refugees this year than in any year since 1980. This is happening at a time when there are more than 20 million refugees worldwide.
The church’s teaching is clear in its call to welcome the stranger. Scripture and tradition challenge us to recognize the dignity of all human beings, especially the most vulnerable. Refugees are some of the most vulnerable people in the world today. Pope Francis has emphasized the issue of migration throughout his papacy. Last fall, he launched “Share the Journey,” a two-year international campaign to raise awareness about migration and work toward solutions that affirm the dignity of all people on the move.
My brothers and sisters, as a people whose identity is to serve others, how do we respond? I offer three suggestions. First, we pray. Pray for refugees and those who have been uprooted from their homes due to violence and persecution. Pray also for the Holy Spirit to guide you in taking action. Second, we educate ourselves. Learn more about the situations faced by refugees and the efforts being taken to meet their needs. Finally, we take action. Contact your congressional leaders, volunteer with organizations that welcome and support refugees, or make a donation to an organization helping refugees. You can find more ideas and helpful resources at www.share journey.org.
As we celebrate our 150th anniversary as a diocese of the Catholic Church, I invite you to also reflect on how Christ sent his disciples to bring the Good News to the world. Today, he continues to call each of us to do the same. May we all hear the call of Jesus to welcome the stranger and, guided by the Holy Spirit, respond with great love and compassion!
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken.