Read the Letters One Refugee Wrote as He Fled From Baghdad to Finland

Image via  / Shutterstock

My thoughts go to the recent perilous journey of a close Iraqi friend — I will call him Mohammed — and his son, whom I will call Omar. Already the survivor of an assassination attempt, this trusted translator, driver, guide, and confidant received a death threat in early August. He fled under cover of night, taking Omar with him. On that same day, 15 men were kidnapped in his village. He left behind a wife and six other children.

From Baghdad, Mohammed and Omar fled to Kurdistan and into Turkey. Next they boarded a boat from Turkey to a series of Greek islands, where, much to their relief, they were at last able to get on a ferry to Athens.

Mohammed wrote letters throughout his journey. The messages that came were understandably brief. I often did not know what to advise him. But having lived with this dear family, I felt as if I were on the hazardous and exhausting 42-day journey with them.

What follows are excerpts from those letters.

How the Vatican Links Human Trafficking, Climate Change, and God

Vladimir Wrangel / Shutterstock.com

Sunset over the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Photo via Vladimir Wrangel / Shutterstock.com

On July 21 and 22, the Vatican hosts two conferences on human trafficking and climate change, bringing the mayors of major cities — including several in the U.S. — to Rome for the events. What do human trafficking and climate change have to do with each other? And what does Catholicism have to do with them? Let us explain.

Q: Why is the Vatican concerned with human trafficking and climate change?

A: If Pope Francis has two pet issues, they are human trafficking and climate change. Since the first year of his papacy he has spoken against human trafficking, calling it “a crime against humanity” and lamenting it as modern slavery. It’s an even bet that when the pope addresses the United Nations in late September he will hammer it as one of the crucial issues of our time. Ditto on climate change. In June, the pontiff published his encyclical — the highest teaching of the church — on climate change.

“Our home is being ruined and that hurts everyone, especially the poorest among us,” Francis said just before the publication of the encyclical.

Pope Francis: Seek Forgiveness for Shutting Out Refugees

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Three hundred sub-Saharan Africans sit onboard a boat during a rescue operation. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

Pope Francis on Wednesday said people who shut out refugees should seek forgiveness, after clashes on Italy’s borders as European countries try to push back against a wave of migrants fleeing by boat from Libya.

Addressing crowds in St. Peter’s Square, Francis drew his followers’ attention to the U.N.’s World Refugee Day this Saturday.

What Would Oscar Romero Say Today About El Salvador?

Photo via Wikimedia / Public Domain

Photo via Wikimedia / Public Domain

Central America needs help expanding education opportunities, building child welfare systems, and sheltering victims of violence and witnesses to crime. But none of these reforms can be sustained unless Central American governments also work to eradicate corruption and reform their judicial systems.

As Romero said during a time of similar urgency, “On this point there is no possible neutrality. We either serve the life of Salvadorans or we are accomplices in their death. … We either believe in a God of life or we serve the idols of death.”

New & Noteworthy

In 2011, Raul Guerrero provided 100 Kodak disposable cameras and taught basic photography skills to nine young students in the Newlands area of Moshi, Tanzania. The Disposable Project book brings together their images of their community, with text by Guerrero. the-disposable-project.com

“Migration has been, for centuries, not only a source of controversy but a source of blessing,” Deirdre Cornell writes in Jesus Was a Migrant. Inspired by ministering among immigrants in different settings, this is a beautifully written set of deeply humanizing reflections on the immigrant experience and Christian spirituality. Orbis Books

The New Black is a documentary film on how the African-American community is grappling with gay rights. Focusing on the campaign for marriage equality in Maryland, it shows activists, families, and clergy on both sides of the campaign, with special attention to the role played by the black church. newblackfilm.com

Some Christians happily become “non-goers” to official churches. In How to Be a Christian Without Going to Church: The Unofficial Guide to Alternative Forms of Christian Community, Kelly Bean explores the reasons and the channels some have found (or founded) for service, pastoral care, and discipleship. Baker Books

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The Hidden Immigration Impact on American Churches

Pastor Rick Behrens during a bilingual service at Grandview Park Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Kan. RNS photo:Sally Morrow

As Congress makes a final attempt this fall to act on comprehensive immigration reform, the debate is focusing on “securing” our borders and offering a path to citizenship to the 11 million residents here without proper documentation. These politicized arguments, however, don’t see the forest for the trees.

We’re not viewing the broader impact that immigration has had on American society, especially since the last major immigration reform of the 1960s. In particular, we’re missing the way immigration is transforming the religious life of North America.

We commonly view immigration as introducing large numbers of non-Christian religions into U.S. society. True, because of immigration in the last half century, America has become the most religiously diverse country in the world, with thousands of mosques and temples dotting our religious landscape.