Bishop Cunningham decries babies being ‘ripped from their mothers’ arms’

Bishop Robert J. Cunningham delivers his homily during a Mass to mark World Refugee Day June 20. (Sun photo | Katherine Long)

By Katherine Long | Editor

“Just as we believe it is wrong for babies to be ripped from their mothers’ womb[s], so also is it wrong for babies to be ripped from their mothers’ arms,” Bishop Robert J. Cunningham said in a pointed and poignant homily during a Mass to mark World Refugee Day June 20.

The global observance coincided with ongoing global criticism of the Trump administration’s policy of separating and detaining parents and children apprehended crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. (As the 12:10 p.m. Mass was being celebrated, news outlets began reporting that President Trump was preparing to issue an executive order that would end the separation of families at the border.)

In his homily, Bishop Cunningham underlined the God-given sanctity of every human life and called on the faithful and all Americans to stand up and speak out for those in need.

“It is wrong for children to be taken from parents who are doing nothing more than any parent would do: seeking to raise their children in peace, security, and safety; giving them a chance to be educated, [for] a better life, and to become productive members of our society,” he said.

“It is wrong for people who have lived in our country for more than a decade as peaceful, law-abiding, taxpaying workers, regularly reporting to immigration authorities, to now be detained and forced to leave our country and their families because of a problem with their entry.                 

“It is wrong for the so-called DREAMers, who came here as children or who were born in the United States, to now live with the uncertainty that has been thrust upon them.

“When I see what is happening to our refugee community and to those seeking to enter our country today; to babies being separated from their parents; to DREAMers; to good people who want only a better chance at life, I wonder what happened not just to religious and moral values, but also to our American standards and ideals.

“We need to make our voices heard and we need to stand up for what is right and for what is just so that we can welcome, protect, promote, and integrate migrants and refugees into our community,” he said.

The bishop closed by urging action.

“Let us not be quiet as children are being taken from their parents — more than 2000 in the last six weeks. Let us truly respond to the Lord’s supreme commandment that we learn to love the other, the stranger, as ourselves. And let us have the grace to do just that.”

Watch footage of the live-stream of the Mass via Syracuse Catholic Television (homily begins at -28:35).

Read the complete prepared text of Bishop Cunningham’s homily below.

At this Mass, we gather as a Catholic community to pray in a special way for refugees and migrants worldwide. But we are especially mindful of those refugees who have made our community a better place and we commend them thank all of those who have “welcomed the stranger in our midst”. We have been blessed with the presence of so many people from different areas of the world and we have been enriched by the talents and gifts and witness which they have brought with them.

In the Old Testament book of Leviticus (19:34) we read: “you shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God”.

Ever since the Holy Father, Pope Francis, was elected to the chair of Peter, both by words and actions he has reminded us of the importance of welcoming the stranger and reaching out in Christian love to those who have had to leave their native land in order to enjoy safety and security; to escape wars and terrorism; to make a better life for themselves and their families. In his first voyage outside the Vatican he went to visit Lampedusa, a place of refuge off  the Italian coast, to express the Church’s concern for migrants, displaced people, refugees and victims of human trafficking. His witness gives new life to the rich social teaching of the Church.

I have thought often of this visit when I see what is happening in our own country today primarily with those people seeking refuge here in what has been called the land of the free. I think too, of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, which clearly states:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

For years, the Catholic bishops of the United States have called for just and comprehensive immigration reform. We are aware of the need to protect our borders and to secure the safety of our people. But when we see on television and in our newspapers stories about children being separated from their parents we have to ask ourselves what we have become as a country and what can we do. Just as we believe it is wrong for babies to be ripped from their mother’s womb, so also is it wrong for babies to be ripped from their mothers arms. It is wrong for children to be taken from parents who are doing nothing more than any parent would — seeking to raise their children in peace, security and safety –— giving them a chance to be educated and become productive members of our society.

It is wrong for people who have lived in our country for more than a decade and have been peaceful, law-abiding, taxpaying workers, regularly reporting to immigration authorities and now being detained and forced to leave our country and their families because of a problem with their entry.                 

It is wrong for the so-called Dreamers, who came here as children or who were born in the United States to now live with the uncertainty that has been thrust upon them. Let the Dreamers flourish in our educational facilities and in our communities at large and make their contribution to American life, just as so many of our forebears did when we came here mostly from European shores generations ago.

When I see what is happening, to our refugee community and to those seeking to enter our country today; to babies being separated from their parents; to dreamers; to good people who want only a better chance at life I wonder what has happened not just to our religious and moral values but also to our American standards and ideals. We need to make our voices heard and we need to stand up for what is right and just so that we can welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees into our community. Let us not be quiet as children are being taken from their parents — more than 2000 in the last six weeks, the media tells us. Let us truly respond to the Lord’s  supreme commandment that we learn to love the other, the stranger as ourselves.