The power of social media and the response to refugees

Social media can be a powerful tool of influence: Witness the reaction after the photo of a Syrian boy washed up on the beach in Turkey after he died in his family's effort to reach Europe.

But our media-driven world can also overwhelm us to the point of indifference, and reaching people suddenly becomes more difficult than ever.

A fake Google search engine being shared on Facebook and Twitter, however, reminds us that our dreams and the dreams of refugees are the same: Called Google Fortunetelling, the link claims that Google will use its vast computer networks to answer questions about your future.

No matter what question you ask, however, the result says:

OF COURSE WE CAN'T PREDICT YOUR FUTURE. But 60 million refugees ask themselves every day if they have a future at all. So we used a fake Google-site to get your attention because apparently you were interested in your own future. Please take a moment to think of their future.

Suddenly you find yourself putting yourself in a refugee's place: What if I didn't have a job or a home or safety or shelter? The page then encourages you to look for local ways to help or to donate to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.

As an added bonus, while you're reading the "fortunetelling" page, a counter shows the number of new refugees fleeing their homes while.

The numbers just keep going up and up.

Those numbers were already attracting statements from dozens of religious orders, organizations and charities, but recent calls by politicians to turn refugees away has brought a much larger, more passionate response.

Here's just a small sampling:

Leadership Conference of Women Religious: "We reject the false choice currently being proffered by some in Washington, state capitols across the country, and on the campaign trail. We need not choose between the gospel call to welcome the stranger and our legitimate need for security. The protection that we rightly promise the world’s refugees must not be denied to Syrians fleeing for their lives."

Franciscan Action Network: "As a faith-based organization, FAN heeds the call of the Scriptures and our church leaders to welcome the stranger, especially families who are fleeing violence in their home countries.  We have special concern for Syrian refugees, yet the United States has resettled only 1,700 refugees from Syria. We call on our government to admit 100,000 Syrian refugees over and above annual resettlement numbers.  And we urge members of Congress to heed the message of Pope Francis when he visited our country, to put a human face on the numbers of refugees."

Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns: "Together, representing our various faiths, we decry derogatory language that has been used about our Muslim friends and neighbors. Inflammatory rhetoric has no place in our response to this humanitarian crisis. We ask our elected officials and candidates for office to recognize that new Americans of all faiths and backgrounds contribute to our economy, our community, and our congregations. Refugees are an asset to this country. They are powerful ambassadors of the American Dream and our nation's founding principles of equal opportunity, religious freedom, and liberty and justice for all."

Sisters fight for indigenous Filipinos

A group of sisters in the Philippines is calling for both the military and the communist rebels they’re fighting to leave indigenous people out of the violence.

The sisters say the military and the paramilitary group they back have been labeling members of the 33 indigenous tribes — known as the Lumád — in the Caraga region as supporters of the communist rebels, known as the New People’s Army, forcibly recruiting some and killing others, Bulatlat.com reported.

"President Aquino, your heart is as hard as that of the Pharaoh who refused to end the oppression of God's chosen people. You have not heeded the intervention of the church to leave the Lumád in peace," said the group in a statement.

The group said Lumád children are suffering because soldiers have been encamped in their schools, and a paramilitary group has burned a school. The military has said there has been voluntary recruitment of Lumád, but no forced recruitment or extrajudicial killings.

The Lumád say they're not taking either side and object to being used as pawns in a fight that has nothing to do with them.

The sisters say that they, too, have been under attack by the military, which has branded them as supporters of the New People's Army and fabricated charges against them. They said Sr. Stella Matutina, the former chairperson of the group, has been charged with kidnapping, serious illegal detention and human trafficking, because she supported the Lumád evacuees in Davao City.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]

Check out the latest from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious 2018.