In his 2018 World Day of Migrants and Refugees message, Pope Francis exhorted all members of the human family to recognize that, “Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age (Matthew 25:35-43).” This encounter is practically expressed, he goes on to say, in acts of welcoming, protecting, promoting, and integrating migrants and refugees which place no conditions or restrictions on our accompaniment.
On June 20, the international community will observe the 19th annual UN World Refugee Day to remind ourselves about the ongoing and life-threatening struggle of migrants and refugees and, at the same time, celebrate the multitude of gifts they bring to the receiving nations and host communities that become places of rebirth and new hope. Refugees like Walaa Ali, whose peaceful life was turned upside down in July 2007 when she was forced to flee her beloved homeland of Iraq. Her story epitomizes the courage and resiliency of all refugees, like the Holy Family, who undertake a perilous journey of survival.
The two-year Share the Journey global migration campaign launched by Pope Francis in September 2017 under the auspices of Caritas Internationalis, a worldwide confederation of Caritas and Catholic Charities agencies, comes at a particularly opportune moment in the history of the global migration phenomenon. Sadly, we’re witnessing the tendency of nations including our own to turn inward and seal their borders in the name of security and out of fear against the enormity of the plight of our desperate brothers and sisters, fully 80 percent women and children, who seek only protection and a place of peace for themselves and their families.
This campaign offers a multitude of personal and organizational opportunities to raise awareness of, advocate for, and be of service to some of the most vulnerable persons we’ll ever encounter. Here are just a few examples:
- Celebrate a multicultural Mass or prayer service in your parish on or around World Refugee Day and focus the readings and prayer intentions on the scriptural migration narrative
- Organize in-district Congressional member visits to advocate on behalf of migrants and refugees
- Present Catholic teaching on migration to parish and school groups
- Volunteer to assist newcomers in the initial stages of their journey to the U.S. through a Catholic Charities agency
- Join the Share the Journey and Justice for Immigrants campaigns to learn more about migration and refugee issues and available resources
- Participate in a local pilgrimage/solidarity walk to raise awareness and present a visible witness to the plight of migrants and refugees
- Host a parish or community potluck meal with newcomers in your community and invite them to share their stories
How will you share the journey? In the words of the Holy Father, “The Lord entrusts to the Church’s motherly love every person forced to leave their homeland in search of a better future. This is a great responsibility, which the Church intends to share with all believers and men and women of good will, who are called to respond to the many challenges of contemporary migration with generosity, promptness, wisdom, and foresight, each according to their own abilities.”
May we heed this call with open hearts and open minds.
Jim Kuh is the Senior Director of Immigration and Refugees Services at Catholic Charities USA in Alexandria, VA.