I am rarely moved to tears when I watch the news. But Saturday evening, Sept. 5, as I was watching a broadcast on the European refugee crisis, I was moved to tears when I saw German citizens cheering (yes -- actually cheering!) Syrian (and other) refugees as they reached the city of Munich.
Those German citizens, many of them volunteers, greeted the refugees with food and water, shelter and medical care, and a place to lay their heads. But most of all, they cheered! They seemed to understand how incredibly difficult the journey from Syria to Germany had been ... getting through Turkey, dealing with smugglers to cross the strait to Greece (where many boats have failed), being blocked in Hungary, and sometimes walking dozens of miles, until either a bus or a train was sent to carry them to Munich. They had at last reached a place where they could glimpse some semblance of a hopeful future. They smiled broadly as the Germans cheered. I am sure those refugees will never forget that moment.
But in Europe these days, we are witnessing an instructive contrast in what it means to live out one's faith. Germans, who are largely Catholic and Lutheran, seem to understand the Scripture which tells us to "welcome the stranger." They have opened their doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees, largely from Syria where the war has reached a new level of violence and destruction. Syrians and other Middle Easterners and Africans are streaming into Europe seeking refuge from violence and just plain hopelessness. Most are Muslim.
But not all nations in Europe are welcoming. Hungary held up refugees in the Budapest train station for days. Slovakia has said it will accept refugees only if they are Christian! They want to preserve what they see as cultural unity. But ... wait a minute! What exactly does it mean to be a "Christian" nation, or a "Christian society" if you refuse to welcome the stranger, or care for the poor and those in need?
And where in Scripture does it say that those in need have to worship God as you do? The President of Slovakia tried to explain his response in another way: they don't even have a mosque in Slovakia. This is Islamophobia pure and simple. Don't have a mosque? Well, the answer to that is simple: build one, or help the refugees build one.
But interestingly, it was Germany (along with Sweden) that opened its doors wide. Prime Minister Angela Merkel is leading the way, and she has reportedly consulted with Pope Francis about responding to this crisis. Pope Francis, for his part, said on September 6, "Every Catholic parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe should accommodate one family, beginning with my diocese of Rome."
On Interfaith Voices last week, we spoke to a refugee from Syria who had found refuge in the Netherlands, and then to Ishaan Tharoor of the Washington Post and Dr. Akbar Ahmed of American University who analyzed the crisis.
Now, the question we face is this: What is the United States prepared to do?