This Sunday 27th September, Pope Francis will mark the 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Each year the Holy Father selects a different theme for us to reflect upon, ‘Like Jesus Christ, forced to flee’ has been chosen for this year’s theme. Nick Hanrahan shares how the message chimes with the experience of our refugee friends.
In his message for the day, Pope Francis invites us to reflect on the fact that Jesus himself faced the uncertainty and tragedy of being forced to flee that we see so many experience in the world today. We are reminded that through His flight to Egypt, God has united himself in a unique way to refugees and forcibly displaced people. Pope Francis encourages us to realise that ‘In each of these people, forced to flee to safety, Jesus is present as he was at the time of Herod. In the faces of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, strangers and prisoners, we are called to see the face of Christ who pleads with us to help.’
If we recognise this, we see in a very special way that ‘forcibly displaced people offer us this opportunity to meet the Lord’. Helping us respond to this opportunity, Pope Francis offers six sets of verbs, each giving practical actions. Upon reading them I saw many things speak true to the mission of JRS as well as shine light on how we improve and grow the way we accompany our refugee friends.
There are lots of different ways you can support our refugee friends for World Day of Migrants and Refugees including through prayer, videos and donations. Why not download some of our resources and find out more?
Firstly, ‘to know in order to understand’. Pope Francis encourages encounter as a way to see beyond statistics and headlines, focusing instead on the individuals involved. At JRS, we make a great effort to know each of our refugee friends by name and to learn about what defines them as a person, beyond their immigration status. Knowing what makes them who they are, and allowing them to know the same about us, helps JRS to create a relationship of mutual understanding.
Second, ‘to be close in order to serve’. The Holy Father offers the example from the story of the Good Samaritan, of one who got close when others walked away. This has been a real challenge during a time of social distancing but between drivers delivering food parcels and our others offering their time to provide practical and emotional support over the phone, volunteers have generously remained close to our friends, serving them as best they can during tough times.
Thirdly, ‘to be reconciled, we need to listen’. In a world of constant noise and instant messaging all of us can find it difficult to listen. Pope Francis asks that as lockdown saw our streets quieten down, we too need to do something to still ourselves and hear what marginalised people have to say. In June, our Policy Officer released ‘Detained and Dehumanised’, a report which listened to the stories of those who have spent time in immigration detention in the UK and have rarely had their voices heard. We hope that in sharing their stories, we can truly listen to what refugees have been forced to endure, and we can all be a part of the reconciliation needed as a result of a hostile immigration system.
‘In order to grow, it is necessary to share’. Pope Francis reminds us that sharing was an ‘essential element’ of the first Christian community and that the importance of sharing has been shown clearly throughout this pandemic as people respond to each other’s needs. No clearer sign of this can be found than the immense generosity of our supporters who have volunteered, donated and prayed for our refugee friends during this time of trial for everyone. We are so grateful for each of you and would not have been able to do it without you.
Next, the Holy Father says ‘We need to be involved in order to promote’. Here he warns us not to allow a well-meaning desire to help or serve prevent us from seeing the value and agency people have to offer. This reminds me of one of our refugee friends who in normal times would be volunteering as a chef at another refugee day centre, using her wonderful cooking skills which she often demonstrates at our weekly Community Kitchen sessions. During lockdown, she used some of the food she has received in her food parcel from JRS to cook for others she knows are in need in her local area. Our refugee friends are incredibly talented, generous and offer us so much.
Finally, Pope Francis calls us ‘to cooperate in order to build’. Throughout the pandemic cooperation has become even more vital than ever. It has been a great joy for us at JRS to work more closely with other charities, businesses and churches to adapt to drastic changes and continue supporting our friends. Offers of help, referrals and funding have found new relationships, and strengthened others, all in the pursuit of easing challenges faced by refugees during a particularly difficult past six months.
In his message, Pope Francis not only offers practical advice for you and I to remember as we accompany our refugee friends, but reminds us that Jesus Christ united Himself so closely to those forced to flee their homes while on Earth. For some this brings strength and comfort to realise that we meet Jesus when we meet with our refugee friends.
Join JRS UK in praying our special prayer this World Day of Migrants and Refugees
To join Pope Francis in celebrating, remembering and accompanying refugees and migrants, why not consider making a donation to JRS UK to support destitute refugees in London? A donation, large or small, can have a remarkable impact on a refugee friend.
There are many other ways to mark World Day of Migrants and Refugees this year. Visit our World Day of Migrants and Refugees page for videos, prayers and more visual resources to help you and your community mark the occasion