Editorial: In the grip of fear

Europe is in crisis.

Even as the continent is struggling to accommodate millions of refugees fleeing war-torn areas of the Middle East and Northern Africa, terrorists continue to strike.

Just days after a deal was struck between the European Union and Turkey, in which the country agreed to serve as a refugee-processing location in exchange for billions of dollars and other provisions, a terrorist attack killed and wounded dozens in Brussels. The event, which brought up all-too-recent memories of similar attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, was a stark reminder of the uncertainty of a world unable to protect itself from suicidal terrorists willing to prey on the unsuspecting and defenseless.

As the events surrounding the Brussels attacks continue to unfold, and tensions naturally rise, it’s important to keep in mind that the vast majority of attackers in Paris were Belgian and French nationals (though not all). None is known to have entered the continent as a refugee from Syria or elsewhere. The same can be said for the attackers in San Bernardino, though one was an immigrant who entered the U.S. on a fiancé visa.

The balancing act performed by political leaders as they weigh the need to protect citizens from terrorists and the obligation to care for the refugee who is lacking the basic rights of food, drink, clothing and safety is both very delicate and extraordinarily politically charged in both Europe and the United States — especially as the number of Syrian refugees alone now tops 4.8 million.

Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut political answer. Turkish leaders said the deal between that country and the EU “has a humanitarian dimension, because the main objective of all these efforts was to prevent the deaths of children, women, youngsters, in the Aegean Sea or in different parts of our neighborhood.” But human rights groups such as Amnesty International say that such measures are only “deepening (the) humanitarian disaster for thousands of refugees trapped in Greece.” The international community must ensure that the new process for refugees is safe, comprehensive and swift-moving, maintaining the dignity of each man, woman and child.

For people of faith, the Gospel, especially when read through the lens of this Year of Mercy, offers more clarity. Pope Francis during Mass on Palm Sunday compared the world’s indifference to the plight of refugees to the indifference Jesus experienced during his passion and death, where “no one wishes to take responsibility for his fate.”

“I think of the many people, so many outcasts, so many asylum seekers, so many refugees, all of those for whose fate no one wishes to take responsibility,” the Holy Father said.

Undoubtedly, taking responsibility is much easier said than done, especially for the many of us so far removed from the crisis. But one only needs to look to the example of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who will be declared a saint in September, to know what the face of the Church is to be during times of trial. We are called to build a culture of mercy and love, as this icon of mercy did, in which we offer our prayers, financial support and every action for the good of others. We need not go to Europe, but can start right here at home.

For Americans, this is an easy time to be afraid, and there are many waiting to harness this fear for political gain. With the help of the Holy Spirit during this Holy Week, let us pray that we may be able to put our fear aside and look not inward, but outward to those in need.

Editorial Board members: Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor