Pope Francis greets March for Life, but later bishops vent ire on Trump refugee decree

(Photo: LWF / M. Renau)A Syrian family living in an unfinished building in Al Mafraq. Many refugees have to trade their food vouchers to pay the rent in early 2016.

Pope Francis offered his greetings to participants at the 2017 March for Life in Washington, D.C., assuring them of his prayers and blessing at an event at which U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was speaking.

But the Catholic Church was keeping its powder dry on the migrant and refugee issue that followed later that day.

In a papal telegram from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope thanked the marchers for their witness to life and it was hardly surprising due to the Catholic stance on the sanctity of life from the moment of conception.

Pence spoke at the March for Life this year on Jan. 27, marking the first time that a current vice president has attended the event.

Hardly sounding like the right hand man to President Donald J. Trump, Pence told the crowds that the pro-life movement is winning, urging them to fight for life with compassion and love.

Pence urged pro-lifers to win over hearts with gentleness and compassion at the 2017 March for Life an event supported by many Catholics and evangelical Christians.

"So I urge you to press on," Pence told the audience gathered on the National Mall for the rally, imploring them "as it is written, let your gentleness be evident to all."

"Let this movement be known for love, not anger," he said according to Catholic News Agency, "let it be known for compassion, not confrontation."

"Society can be judged by how we care for the most vulnerable," he said, pointing to the aged, infirm, disabled, and unborn as examples. "We've come to a historic moment in the cause of life," he added, and "we must meet this moment with respect and compassion for every American."

"Life is winning in America," he said, "and today is a celebration of that progress, the progress that we've made in that cause."

The pro-life movement can win the hearts and minds of young people "if our hearts first break for young mothers and their unborn children, and if we each of us do all we can to meet them where they are with generosity, not judgment," said Pence.

Other speakers at this year's rally and march, included, Kellyanne Conway, senior counselor to Trump; Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York; Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson; and former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson.

The Catholic support for the Trump camp on the issue of the right to life did not, however, guarantee support in every policy of the new U.S. president.

Already in 2016, while the U.S. presidential campaign was in full swing Pope Francis had said, "It's hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help.

"If I say I am Christian, but do these things, I'm a hypocrite."

The message read to the Washington rally, however, quoted a passage from Francis' apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia: "So great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother's womb, that no alleged right...can justify a decision to terminate that life."

"His Holiness is profoundly grateful for this impressive testimony to the sacredness of every human life," said the Pope's message.

Pope Francis, "trusts that this event, in which so many American citizens speak out on behalf of the most defenseless of our brothers and sisters, will contribute to a mobilization of consciences in defense of the right to life and effective measures to ensure its adequate legal protection," said the message.

But two days later Catholic leaders in the United States reacted with anger to President Trump's newly signed executive order that bars Syrian refugees from entering the country and halts resettlement programs for up to four months and are urging him to reconsider the policy.

"This weekend proved to be a dark moment in U.S. history," Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago said in a Jan. 29 statement said America Magazine. "The executive order to turn away refugees and to close our nation to those, particularly Muslims, fleeing violence, oppression and persecution is contrary to both Catholic and American values."


Signed by Trump on the afternoon of Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the executive order stops all refugee resettlement for four months. It bars refugees from Syria from entering the United States indefinitely. Further, residents of seven predominantly Muslim nations cannot enter the United States for 90 days.

By the following night, several federal judges temporarily blocked parts of the order so that travelers being detained in U.S. airports by border patrol agents could enter the country.

On the morning of Jan. 30, the Trump administration suggested that the order was being amended so that greencard holders (permanent residents) would be allowed to reenter the United States.

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) that aired this weekend, Trump suggested that Christian refugees would be given priority over people of other faiths, including Muslims.

Of course, he was soon tweeting that sentiment from his personal account on Jan. 29.

But many Christian leaders, including Catholics, rejected the notion that Christians undergoing persecution should be given priority over others being persecuted for their faith, such as Muslims suffering from violence at the hands of other Muslims.

"We are told this is not the 'Muslim ban' that had been proposed during the presidential campaign, but these actions focus on Muslim-majority countries."

Cupich said. "They make an exception for Christians and non-Muslim minorities, but not for Muslims refugees fleeing for their lives."

He noted, "The world is watching as we abandon our commitments to American values."

The New York-based World Evangelical Alliance, many of whose members hold similar views to Catholics opposing abortion and supporting the sanctity to life, reacted to Trump's decree by issuing a statement titled: "Call to Welcome Refugees."

"We wholeheartedly affirm the clear teaching of the Holy Bible that the people of God are called by God to 'love' and 'welcome' the foreigner and stranger (Leviticus 19:33,34 and Matthew 25:34-36)," said the WEA statement. "We therefore call upon the worldwide body of Christ to reflect the heart of God and to actively love and welcome refugees.

"We call upon Christian leaders and pastors to deepen their biblical understanding of forced displacement and to intentionally minister in ways intended to create space in the hearts and minds of others for refugees.

"We call upon Christians everywhere to pursue a biblically informed perspective of forced displacement and to actively seek the welfare of refugees.

"Recognizing that the global refugee crisis is putting great pressure on governments, we call upon Christians to pray for wisdom for government leaders involved in refugee-related policy-making," said WEA.

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