Sunday January 29, 2017

Our Values Guide Us

By Eric F. Spina

I know that our University of Dayton community cares about our Muslim brothers and sisters.  

I have felt compelled to share some personal reflections since immigration officials began implementing an executive order that temporarily bars refugees and citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries entry into the U.S., based on their country of origin.

That includes university students attending American universities who travel back and forth to their countries to visit their families and scholars and researchers who travel worldwide to conduct research, teach abroad and attend conferences.

As I gathered my thoughts, I received a thoughtful email Saturday night from a University of Dayton student that touched me.

“UD is a place of diversity and differing ideas,” the student wrote. As a Catholic, Marianist university, we “stand for community and inclusivity,” he continued, calling it “one of our biggest tenets.”

Before signing off as “a concerned student,” he asked the kind of question that makes me so proud of our students’ appreciation for the dignity of all people: “Is there anything that we can do as a University to show solidarity with not only the Muslim community on Dayton’s campus but (also) with the entire Muslim community of America and the world?”

It’s precisely because we’re a Catholic, Marianist university that we encourage students to grow in their understanding of their own and other faith traditions. We treasure our Muslim students, faculty and staff and respect their religious beliefs and freedom to practice their religion. They are a valued part of the rich diversity of our campus community, and we pledge to do all we can now, and in the future, to welcome students of different religious, ethnic or racial backgrounds and respect their dignity.

As part of our Catholic tradition, we respect the human rights of all people, particularly those who are most vulnerable, such as refugees. Yesterday, Bishop Vásquez, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, stated, "We strongly disagree with the executive order's halting refugee admissions. We believe that now, more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope.” 

This affirms the thoughts of Pope Francis who has said all nations must serve “the poorest, the sick (and) those who have abandoned their homelands in search of a better future for themselves and their families. In putting ourselves at the service of the neediest,” he said, “we will experience that we already are united; it is God’s mercy that unites us.” 

Pope Francis has continued the church’s advocacy of religious freedom, a consistent teaching since the Vatican Council II. In a visit to Jordan, he said, “Religious freedom is, in fact, a fundamental human right, and I cannot fail to express my hope that it will be upheld throughout the Middle East and the entire world.” He went on to quote his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, calling religious freedom “the pinnacle of other freedoms.”

Although a federal judge has blocked part of the executive order, we don’t yet know all the legal ramifications because it remains in flux. We urge students, faculty and staff affected by the executive order to check with staff in the Center for International Programs before making any decisions concerning going beyond U.S. borders, as they can provide you with the latest information and make suggestions as needed about external legal advice. Especially if you are outside the U.S. or are traveling, please contact Tim Kao at 937-229-2748 or tkao1@udayton.edu. Tim and the CIP staff are available to assist you with any questions or concerns.

We deeply respect the American political system and the freedoms that it supports, and pray that our elected officials will implement policies that are consistent with our longstanding national values of religious freedom and non-discrimination based on faith traditions and country of origin. As people of faith, it’s our duty to prayerfully reflect on those values — and, when necessary, advocate for their protection.

As that concerned student so eloquently wrote, “We stand for community and inclusivity.”

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