“The decision to migrate should always be free, yet in many cases, even in our day, it is not.”
World Day of Migrants and Refugees is celebrated by the Church every year on the last Sunday of September. It is an opportunity for parishes and communities to learn more about refugees and migrants on the move, to pray for them, and work together for positive change.
The theme of this year’s WDMR, which falls on Sunday 24th September, is “Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay”. In his message, Pope Francis recognises and gives voice to an unfortunate reality of today’s world: that for many, migration is forced and involuntary. Poverty, persecution, war, and instability are amongst the many reasons why people are forced to leave their homes to search for safety and a better life.
Pope Francis rightly reminds us that “eliminating these causes and thus putting an end to forced migration” will require a shared commitment by all. However, he is also aware that this will not be easy and will take a long time.
Therefore, until we live in a world where all people have true freedom to choose whether to migrate or to stay, it is essential that we meet our responsibility to welcome and assist people who seek safety and refuge.
“Even as we work to ensure that in every case migration is the fruit of a free decision, we are called to show maximum respect for the dignity of each migrant…”
It is not an easy time to be a refugee or asylum seeker in the UK. Asylum and immigration policies are becoming increasingly hostile, and people who come here seeking sanctuary are pushed to the margins, into destitution and vulnerability.
The Illegal Migration Act, passed in July this year, has all but extinguished the right to claim asylum in the UK. People are thus forced to make dangerous journeys to come to the UK, and often face punishment and hostility for the way they travelled here. Many asylum seekers are detained or forced into years of destitution. There is even growing hostility for those newly recognised as refugees, who are increasingly at risk of homelessness.
“Christ himself knocks at our door…”
As a Church, we are called to act for collective justice. We should support work that brings peace and equality to migrants’ native countries, and when people come to us seeking sanctuary, we should treat them with dignity and respect.
In Scripture we read countless stories of forced and involuntary migration – think of the stories of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and Naomi, for example – and also countless tales of encounter and growth. In short, forced migration, and responding with welcome and hospitality to others, has been a part of our faith from the very beginning.
Indeed, as a boy, Christ himself was a refugee.
Today, we are called to see Christ in everyone who moves – but often we fail to do so.
“The important thing is that there will always be a community ready to welcome, protect, promote and integrate everyone…”
This is why marking WDMR as a community is important – though we should be living out hospitality every day, it can be useful to have an annual event to remind us of our commitment to welcome the stranger and respect the dignity of all human lives. Marking it – by talking to others, praying, holding a fundraiser, coordinating a welcome event – is also an act of witness to our neighbours. We see in those who move our sisters and brothers. We care. We want to, and we will, make a welcome.
This year, we’ve worked with Caritas Westminster to produce resources for parishes and communities to use to observe World Day of Migrants and Refugees. The resource pack includes newsletter inserts, posters and bookmarks to raise awareness, and ideas for action and welcome. It’s been designed so that you can use the resources directly as they are, or adapt them to the unique needs, talents, and interests of your community.
We’d love to hear from you and your community – how does your parish community welcome refugees and asylum seekers?
Francis ends his Message, as usual, with a prayer, which itself closes with a plea for God’s help “to spread in hearts and in every situation the culture of encounter and of care.” Care and encounter are rightly closely bound up – if I love my neighbour, I will not walk by on the other side when they are in need. It is such a culture of encounter and care that we pray for, and strive to build at JRS – where we meet refugees as human persons, and serve them as companions.
Thank you for your support, whatever form it comes in, whether that is prayers, donations, volunteering or writing to your MP. You are part of the JRS community, and we could not continue to do our work without you. While we wait for a world where everyone is truly “free to choose whether to migrate or to stay”, you are helping to make the world a little more liveable for those seeking sanctuary.