Church leaders commend president for support for refugees, faith-based initiatives

.- Representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commended President George W. Bush for his remarks in support of refugees made at the first White House conference on faith-based and community initiatives, held last week. In a letter expressing appreciation to the president, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory said Bush's "commitment to re-energizing and sustaining the U.S. tradition of admitting refugees from around the world was very much welcomed."

The USCCB president said the increased refugee admissions to the United States this year have "required concerted effort on the part of many in our government, but the leadership from the White House has been critically important."

"It is heartening that the president has expressed his personal support for refugees and the need for Americans to be welcoming of them," said Mark Franken, executive director for USCCB's Migration and Refugee Services, noting the dramatic reductions in refugee admissions since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

"Presidential leadership will be required to ensure that the refugee admissions program is fully restored," said Franken.

During the conference, Bush highlighted the stories of two refugees, who were resettled through local Catholic Charities programs.

The president also recognized the USCCB's Migration and Refugee Services as a model of a faith-based organization, partnering with the government to help persons in need.

Franken and nine other faith-based leaders, including Archbishop Harry Flynn of Minneapolis/St. Paul and Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, met with the president earlier in the day to discuss assistance to refugees and the need for reforms in U.S. immigration laws.

Franken said much work still needs to be done to ensure that refugees receive protection. Funding should become a priority for the program, he said, as well as the development of an overseas infrastructure to identify and process refugees in need of resettlement.

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