U.S. Sanctuary Movement Leaders Applaud Pope Francis’s Call for Churches to Take in Refugees

September 8, 2015

Leaders across the United States involved in the Sanctuary movement applaud Pope Francis’s announcement over the weekend for Catholic parishes across Europe to take in refugees.

“Faith communities across the United States have answered the call to provide immigrants with sanctuary, allowing them to stay united with their families and communities as they fight their unjust deportation orders,” the Rev. Noel Andersen said, National Grassroots Coordinator for Church World Service. “In light of the global refugee crisis, we wholeheartedly support Pope Francis’s call for faith communities in Europe to open their doors to refugees.”

Church World Service is calling on the Obama administration to allow 200,000 refugees to be resettled in the United States in the coming federal fiscal year, including 100,000 Syrian refugees, in response to the growing need.

Faith communities in the United States first organized a Sanctuary movement decades ago in the 1980s, in an effort that saved the lives of thousands of political refugees who were not being treated as refugees but were instead labeled “migrants” from Central America. More recently, congregations in the United States opened their doors in an act of sanctuary to keep families and communities together when faced with deportations. Providing sanctuary for dozens of families and individuals over the last several years, the Sanctuary movement in the United States continues to act as a beacon of hope for those facing deportation orders that would tear apart their families and communities.

“As a person of faith and pastor of a church offering sanctuary to an immigrant mother, I strongly support Pope Francis’s call for other communities of faith to open their doors and hearts to people seeking sanctuary from unjust policies and violent situations,” said the Rev. Alison Harrington, pastor at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona. Her congregation has provided Rosa Robles Loreto, a mother of two and long-term resident of Tucson, with sanctuary for over one year as she fights her deportation order.

“After living in Sanctuary for several months I was able to win a stay of removal and re-open my asylum case,” said Sulma Franco, a woman in Austin, Texas who lived in sanctuary at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin.“The power of congregations willing to provide a radical welcome and prophetic voice has helped us grow a stronger movement for immigrant and refugee rights. I hope Pope Francis’s call to congregations to take in refugees is heard across the globe in every faith community.”

The Rev. Ken Heintzelman is pastor of Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix, a congregation that provided sanctuary to Misael Perez-Cabrera, an immigrant who won a stay of removal so that he could apply for asylum. “As people of faith, we come from a proud tradition of welcoming immigrants and refugees into our congregations,” Heintzleman said. “The Pope’s message resonates with all people of faith when we reflect on our sacred texts that call us to welcome the stranger and love our neighbor. This is an ancient practice that must be charged with renewed effort as we face a global crisis of displaced people.”

Media Contact:

Megan Cagle, Church World Service: 602-399-0723, mcagle@cwsglobal.org