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A crisis to burst our bubble

| Friday, November 20, 2015

While the conflict in Syria has intensified in the past two years, recent events have called for our attention now more than ever.

First, the ISIS attacks in Paris last Friday renewed debates over whether the U.S. should open its borders to 10,000 Syrian refugees, as President Obama proposed.

Then, Notre Dame students received an email from student government Tuesday, inviting them to a dinner at the Morris Inn to learn, in light of the Syrian crisis, about the trek of refugees around the world and how it has specifically affected South Bend.

But it’s also a crisis that has been on the front pages of every national newspaper for the past few years.

While our attention was drawn to Syria because of immediate events — the attacks, the email, the news coverage — the country’s civil war and its consequences have been an ongoing struggle for the last four-and-a-half years, leaving more than 200,000 dead and displacing 12 million more from their homes, with no clear end in sight.

We often limit our attention to our day-to-day problems, within the so-called “Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s bubble,” focusing solely on issues that directly affect this campus and its students, faculty and staff.

There’s no doubt the University and College have their own unique problems that require our attention to address and amend, but some events require us to look beyond the scope of South Bend and see how they are affecting people all around the world.

Certainly the world’s largest human rights crisis, which started in Syria right now but also affects the rest of the Middle East, Europe and North America, qualifies as an event worthy of our attention.

As an American, Catholic University and College, Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s are uniquely situated to address the plight of Syrian refugees in our own way.

Joining a growing trend, Indiana governor Mike Pence became one of 26 governors Monday to refuse to accept some of the 10,000 Syrian refugees allowed to migrate to the U.S.

“Indiana has a long tradition of opening our arms and homes to refugees from around the world but, as governor, my first responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of all Hoosiers,” Pence said.

In September, though, Pope Francis called on every Catholic parish and religious community around the world to take in refugee families affected by the Syrian civil war.

“Facing the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees — fleeing death by war and famine, and journeying towards the hope of life — the Gospel calls, asking of us to be close to the smallest and forsaken. To give them a concrete hope, and not just to tell them, ‘Have courage, be patient!’” Francis said.

As one of the world’s premier Catholic universities, “one of the most powerful means for doing good in this country,” as Fr. Edward Sorin said, what are we supposed to do while simultaneously located under the jurisdiction of the governor of Indiana?

How can we help the millions of refugees from Syria scattered around the world from our campuses?

How do we live out the hope of University President emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh that, “If Notre Dame makes a difference in the whole world, at the heart of that difference would be our commitment to human rights, human dignity, human freedom and human accomplishment,” with human rights at the fore of that hope?

We can start by educating ourselves about what is going on in Syria — how the conflict started, how it has affected its citizens, how it is touching the rest of the world.

Some of us have known about the crisis since the civil war began, while others may not have known until the start of this school year, possibly even until the Paris attacks. Regardless of where you stand now, all of us can learn a bit more.

Pick up any national newspaper, and a story on Syria will most likely be included in it, if not displayed on the front page. Take a moment to read and learn about the situation. It will take some time to understand the full scope of this crisis, but we can’t help until we’re aware of what is going on.

Attend a lecture on campus about Syria or about the plight of refugees in general. Go to the Dec. 1 dinner at the Morris Inn, but not just for the chocolate dome cake. Go because you know you can learn more and that you can make a difference with that knowledge.

We applaud the efforts of student government to offer such an opportunity for students to learn about this crisis and connect with those affected by forced migration, who can help us learn more about what we can do.

Send letters to your governor if he or she refuses to accept refugees in his or her state. Participate in the work of clubs like Human Rights ND to follow through on Fr. Hesburgh’s wish. Join other Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students on social media today with #AmericaWelcomes to urge Pence to support refugee resettlement.

While this conflict is one with many nuances, turns and consequences, it’s not enough for us to stop learning or do nothing because of our own problems here at Notre Dame.

This is a crisis that calls for us to break out of the “bubble.”

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