This Sunday, 19th January, is World Day of Prayer for Migrants and Refugees within the Catholic Church. What does that mean? There are lots of “days” for different things all the way through the year, so what is special about this day for us at JRS? We accompany refugees every day, but once in a while it is good to pause and look at a bigger picture.
“Towards a better world” is the title of Pope Francis’s message written especially with this Sunday in mind. As he explains “Our societies are experiencing, in an unprecedented way, processes of mutual interdependence and interaction on the global level. While not lacking problematic or negative elements, these processes are aimed at improving the living conditions of the human family, not only economically, but politically and culturally as well. Each individual is a part of humanity and, with the entire family of peoples, shares the hope of a better future.” He then outlines many of the bigger issues that need to be improved and structural changes that need to be in place.
Moving towards safety is what many of our refugee friends have in mind as they left the desperate situations they were in back at home. Some of them may have been able to exercise a degree of choice in the decision to leave (for example when to leave and where to go), many had no choice but to flee.
Moving towards a more fulfilled life is what many of our refugee friends hope for when they come to a new country. Sadly, for many of those we see, life here is as hard if not harder emotionally, as their expectations of welcome and support are replaced with disbelief and turned down asylum claims.
Moving towards a better future is what many of our refugee friends cling onto as their hopes of being given leave to remain are dashed and they find themselves destitute or detained in immigration removal centres. Their resilience and strength of character is both humbling and inspiring to the rest of us.
So as we work on their behalf for “a better world”, we can take instruction from Pope Francis’s message that this is not just an idea, but something concrete: practical help with food and clothing, emotional support with friendship and hospitality, political change in values and priorities, media change in portrayals and images…
Let us remember: “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more”
Dealing with the global forces at work, JRS’s mission to advocate as well as accompany , and serve is important: “As the Church accompanies migrants and refugees on their journey, she seeks to understand the causes of migration, but she also works to overcome its negative effects, and to maximize its positive influence on the communities of origin, transit and destination.”
And as Pope Francis says: “A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world. The communications media are themselves called to embrace this “conversion of attitudes” and to promote this change in the way migrants and refugees are treated.”
So, this Sunday, we will both remember our own part and the wider picture of change that we can advocate for, while taking time to pause and hold in our hearts those individuals we know who come here for safety, for life and a better future in what we hope will be a better world for all of us.