Trenton, N.J. — New Jersey's Catholic bishops called on people of faith and "of goodwill" to "go beyond their comfort zone" and renew their commitment to caring for immigrants, refugees and the poor.
Expressing concern that the newcomers to the United States have been largely overlooked and have been the subject of callous words, the 10 bishops said in a pre-Christmas statement that biblical values provide the impetus to act with compassion and care toward migrating people.
The bishops also called for an end to the "harsh rhetoric that spawns hatred and fear."
"This year in the face of international violence and hatred, let us be heralds of hope and peace," the bishops wrote.
The Catholic leaders compared the plight of contemporary immigrants and refugees to the flight of Mary, Joseph and Jesus to Egypt as refugees themselves in the face of threatened violence more than 2,000 years ago.
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"In recent years, millions of our neighbors from Latin America, suffering from poverty and violence, have been seeking safe haven in America. We need to ask: How are they being met? Any analysis would indicate that we the people have not met the scriptural standard for welcoming these strangers," the bishops wrote.
Welcoming strangers can be "risky and inconvenient," the statement said, "and our national leaders always must act with regard for the safety and well-being of the citizens of this great land."
"But safe and convenient lives are not the narrow gate to which Jesus calls us. Jesus calls us to go beyond our comfort zone, and when we do, he always will provide for us," the bishops said.
The bishops noted that 60 million people are on the move around the world during the Christmas season and that they represent the largest number of displaced men, women and children since World War II. They particularly pointed to the millions of Syrian families that have fled their homeland the in the face of five-year-old civil war.
The statement references biblical passages as well as the words of Pope Francis during a November visit to Kenya in calling people to act on behalf of their brothers and sisters in transit.
"By calling us to live in peace, harmony and mutual respect, Pope Francis challenges us to move from feel good thoughts to real action -- action that has the potential to show our nation how to welcome strangers, while still protecting our families and communities," the bishops wrote.
As the new year approached, the bishops urged people to resolve in 2016 to "help our communities to live in peace, harmony and mutual respect."
"This year, let each of us echo the words of Jesus by telling our families and friends: 'Be not afraid,'" they said.
Signing the statement were Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark; Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda, coadjutor of Newark; Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski of Metuchen; Bishop Yousif B. Habash of Our Lady of Deliverance Syriac Catholic Diocese; Bishop David M. O'Connell of Trenton; Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson; Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan of Camden; and Auxiliary bishops Manuel A. Cruz and John W. Flesey, both of Newark.