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Share the Journey

A prayer here, a share on social media there, a voice of support in a letter to the editor, even a get-to-know-others potluck.
 
Supporting refugees and migrants can take many forms, and Pope Francis is hoping Catholics around the world will act over the next two years to encounter people on the move.
 
In the U.S., the Church's leading organizations have developed a series of activities, including prayers, that families, parishes, schools and individuals can undertake during the Share the Journey campaign the pope is set to open Sept. 27 at the Vatican.
 
Share the Journey is an initiative of Caritas Internationalis, the global network of Catholic charitable agencies. It is meant to urge Catholics to understand and get to know refugees and migrants who have fled poverty, hunger, violence, persecution and the effects of climate change in their homeland.
 
In addition to Pope Francis' formal announcement at his weekly general audience, key church representatives, including Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, president of Caritas Internationalis, were to conduct a media conference the same day.
 
U.S. partners in the effort are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Migration and Refugee Services, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA.
 
The effort will give Catholics the opportunity to learn and explore Catholic social teaching on refugees and migrants, said Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of U.S. operations for CRS.
 
"Catholic social teaching has clear messages of caring for strangers, the importance of hearing their stories and understanding their needs," she said.
 
Much of the effort will be focused on sharing stories about migrants and refugees, the struggles they face and why they chose to seek a better life elsewhere, said Kristin Witte, coordinator of domestic Catholic educational engagement at CRS, which is the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency.
 
"The hope is that through the stories that are presented, the images presented, that people will be moved from their place of comfort to a place of encounter. That's what the church is calling us to. That's what the pope is calling us to," she said.
 
The coalition of Catholic organizations has developed a toolkit in English and Spanish that includes prayers, suggestions for activities for families, prayer groups, classrooms and clergy, and utilizing social media with references to #sharejourney.
 
"We're giving people clear direct ideas, not just in their neighborhood but to mobilize communities. To create an environment or an opportunity for action is critical especially at this time," Witte said.
 
Mark Priceman, communications for the bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that about 22 million people are on the move around the world, making the Christian community's awareness and response to their situation critical.
 
The number of refugees to be admitted to the U.S. was capped at 50,000 by President Donald Trump for fiscal year 2017, which was to end Sept. 30. It is less than half of the ceiling of 110,000 set by President Barack Obama. A presidential determination on the number of refugees to be accepted for fiscal year 2018 was due by Sept. 30.
 
Since 1996, the number of refugees admitted has fluctuated between 70,000 and 90,000 annually. The number of refugees to be accepted each year is determined by the president under the Refugee Act, which was signed into law in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter. The act amended earlier law, created a permanent and systematic procedure to admit refugees, and established a process for reviewing and adjusting the refugee ceiling to meet emergencies.
 
Share the Journey looks to mobilize people quickly. Soon after the opening, the campaign is calling for a week of prayer and action for migrants and refugees Oct. 7-13.
 
Special prayers at Masses, prayer vigils, simulation exercises, school announcements, lesson plans and speaking events are among the activities suggested as ways to learn about people on the move.
 
Similar activities will be taking place worldwide throughout the campaign, Rosenhauer said.
 
"It is a reflection of the Holy Father's leadership, but it's also a reflection of the commitment of leaders around the church around the world," she explained.
Nearly three dozen cardinals, archbishops and bishops as of Sept. 25 have pledged to participate in the campaign, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
 
Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami addressed the concepts of the Share the Journey campaign in an op-ed column Aug. 28 in the Sun Sentinel in Broward County, Fla.
 
"'Share the Journey' invites us to see through the eyes of others rather than turning a blind eye," he wrote. "As Pope Francis says, 'Not just to see but to look. Not just to hear but to listen. Not just to meet and pass by but to stop. And don't just say, 'What a shame, poor people,' but to allow ourselves to be moved by pity.'"
 
The campaign will take advantage of specially designated days throughout the year to raise awareness, including the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12; Lent; the church's observance of National Migration Week in January; World Refugee Day June 20 and the September 2018 United Nations meeting to consider two global compacts on refugees and migration.
 
There also is an advocacy component to Share the Journey, Rosenhauer said, giving U.S. Catholics the opportunity to take what they learn about migrants and refugees and approach federal policymakers to better allocate international assistance to address the factors that cause people to flee.
 
Together with Catholics worldwide, the U.S. organizers said they hope the campaign will begin to ease the burdens under which migrants and refugees live.
 
"We're mobilizing the worldwide Catholic Church to serve," Witte said. "There are so many networks that the Catholic Church already has that we can infuse an opportunity allow them to live their baptismal call and to stand up for the most vulnerable."
 
  • Published in World

Sicily migrant project

Italian youth lead the lively Sunday worship at St. Pius X Catholic Church in this southern Sicilian town with the help of an African migrant picking up the playful rhythm on a drum.
 
Integrating the migrants into a normal life is one of the goals of the Migrant Project/Sicily, a project of the International Union of Superiors Generals. The nuns from different congregations around the world heeded Pope Francis' urgent call in 2015 to aid migrants fleeing conflict and poverty.
 
"We call ourselves migrants among migrants," said Sister Janet Cashman, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, Kansas. She served as a health care worker in the U.S., Peru and South Sudan before taking up this latest calling with Migrant Project/Sicily.
 
The nuns give practical help and emotional support to scores of migrants flooding Sicily's shores. The U.N.'s International Organization for Migration said that as of July 3, more than 85,000 migrants -- of the more than 100,000 crossing the Mediterranean -- landed in Italy this year.
 
"When you look at the sea, you see its beauty, but what I came to know is that a lot of people were lost there," Polish Sacred Heart Sister Maria Gaczol told Catholic News Service. The U.N. estimates more than 2,200 people died at sea in the first six months of this year. "It is a cemetery as well, and so, too, is the desert."
Before Africans reach Libya for the crossing to Europe, many must cross the Sahara Desert.
 
"It's not one or two, but nearly all speak about the hell they went through to come here," Congolese Sister Vicky Victoria of the Mission Sisters of Our Lady of Africa told CNS of the perilous journey. "Most of them are trafficked, having received promises of a good job in Libya or an even better one in Europe."
 
But the first big trial is to cross the Sahara alive. Many migrants told Sister Vicky that drivers from Niger play a ruse, often telling the migrants that their pickup truck has broken down in the middle of the desert.
 
"He says, 'I am going to repair it and I will come back to take you.' But he never does," she said.
 
If the stranded migrants are lucky, a kind truck driver will return to collect them after dropping off his passengers. But often the migrants are "left to walk without food or water. So they just dig in the sand with their hands and put the dead bodies below," Sister Vicky said.
 
"Many say what shows them the way when they are lost are the bones, the skeletons of those who died along the way in the desert," she said.
 
The tragedy continues: For women, reaching Libya can mean being forcibly put into prostitution, while others are sold as slaves, some to work on farms for which they have no experience.
 
"Some are very qualified people such as doctors, economists, nurses, teachers. They are beaten like beasts. Their backs are just scars," Sister Vicky said. "This is slavery today, and no one speaks about that."
 
Others are kidnapped and forced to phone their families, with their captors demanding ransom for their lives.
 
All of this, just before making the deadly voyage across the Mediterranean, often in unseaworthy vessels -- a trip that can cost $5,700.
 
"So many have seen their colleagues sink from different boats. Not all are inside the boat. Some are sitting on the rim and are swept into the sea," Sister Vicky said. "Some arrive, totally out of their minds because of the trauma they lived."
 
Indian Sister Veera Bara told CNS: "Besides praying with them, we integrate them into our prayers. Their life stories are also heavy for us when we listen to them.
 
"A migrant phoned me saying, 'Sister, I can't sleep even though they give me strong medicine. I see my family who were killed coming to me like a trauma every day,'" she said.
 
The religious provide emotional support, teach Italian and translate for the migrants with Italian officials and in hospitals. They also provide meals and warm clothing to those in need as well as conduct catechism classes and hold children's clubs.
 
One of the migrants helped by the religious, Godfrey Wadelwasee, 35, shared his own story of the crossing.
 
"The boat was overcrowded, with some people fainting inside. A lot of heavy waves hit. I saw trousers, caps on top of the water of those who died. Our boat began to sink. We prayed. The rescuers came and lifted us up," the Nigerian said.
 
"I believed God that I would not die. When we arrived in Sicily, they wrote our names. I found myself in Caltanisetta," said Wadelwasee, who is housed in a camp of hundreds. He, like other migrants, hope to get papers for residency and work. But the nuns said perhaps only 10 percent of the migrants are accepted.
Italy has threatened to close its ports as 83,000 migrants have so far entered the country this year alone, while it has received little help from other European countries. Another 2,000 migrants are now reported to have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean.
 
"It's a tragedy and the world should move itself, if we have a bit of humanity in us," Sister Vicky said. "On the contrary, the laws have been tightened and even the minors who are supposed to be protected, are no longer protected."
 
Meanwhile, Pakistani migrant Gishon Payan, 23, says he has no choice but to try to work in Europe to support his widowed mother and eight siblings. He took a loan of more than $10,000 to make the two-month journey by bus and foot to Italy and if he does not pay back the money, his family's lives are in danger.
 
"Life is full of tension. I feel the pressure to get my papers and repay the loan," Payan told CNS. "I can't sleep or eat."
 
  • Published in World

Pope leads prayers for migrants, trafficking victims

Marking the feast of St. Josephine Bakhita, a former slave, Pope Francis urged Christians to help victims of human trafficking and migrants, especially the Rohingya people being chased from Myanmar.

For the Catholic Church, St. Bakhita's feast day, Feb. 8, is a day of prayer for victims of trafficking.

Pope Francis asked government officials around the world to "decisively combat this plague" of human trafficking, paying particular attention to trafficking in children. "Every effort must be made to eradicate this shameful and intolerable crime."

Describing St. Bakhita as a "young woman who was enslaved in Africa, exploited, humiliated," Pope Francis said she never gave up hope and, finally, she was able to migrate to Europe.

Holding up a booklet with a photograph of the Sudanese saint, who died in Italy in 1947, the pope continued telling her story. In Europe, he said, "she heard the call of the Lord and became a nun," joining the Canossian Daughters of Charity.

"Let us pray to St. Josephine Bakhita for all migrants and refugees who are exploited and suffer so much," the pope said.

"And speaking of migrants who are exploited and chased away, I want to pray with you today in a special way for our Rohingya brothers and sisters," the pope continued. "These people, thrown out of Myanmar, move from one place to another because no one wants them."

Pope Francis told the estimated 7,000 people at his audience that the Rohingya, who are Muslim, "are good people. They are our brothers and sisters. They have been suffering for years. They have been tortured, killed, just because they want to keep their traditions and their Muslim faith."

He led the audience in praying the Lord's Prayer "for our Rohingya brothers and sisters."

In a report released Feb. 3, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said since October, there had been escalating violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar. The report cited eyewitness reports of mass gang-rape, killings -- including of babies and young children -- beatings, disappearances and other serious human rights violations by the country's security forces.

An estimated 66,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since October, the report said.

The recent violence, the U.N. said, "follows a long-standing pattern of violations and abuses; systematic and systemic discrimination; and policies of exclusion and marginalization against the Rohingya that have been in place for decades in northern Rakhine state."

In his main audience talk, Pope Francis continued to discuss the characteristics of Christian hope, which should be both tender and strong enough to support those who suffer and despair.

The Gospel does not call Christians to pity the suffering, but to have compassion, which means suffering with them, listening to them, encouraging them and offering a helping hand, the pope said.

The Gospel calls Christians "not to build walls, but bridges, not to repay evil with evil, but to defeat evil with goodness (and) offense with forgiveness, to live in peace with all," he said. "This is the church. And this is what Christian hope accomplishes when it takes on the strong and, at the same time, tender features of love."
 
  • Published in Vatican

Monitoring needs of migrants, refugees

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is establishing a working group charged with developing spiritual, pastoral and policy advocacy support for immigrants and refugees.

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, has named members of the working group, with the mandate of closely following developments related to immigrants and refugees in the United States. The USCCB Public Affairs Office announced formation of the group Dec. 16.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, will chair the group. Members include the chairmen of USCCB committees and subcommittees involved in immigration concerns: Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, Committee on Migration; Auxiliary Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Rockville Centre, New York, Subcommittee on Hispanic Affairs; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, Committee on Domestic Social Development; Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, Washington, Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants; and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Committee on International Justice and Peace.

The groundwork for the working group was set during the bishops’ annual fall general assembly in Baltimore when several bishops suggested the conference closely monitor actions by the federal government that affect immigrants and refugees.

In announcing the working group, the Public Affairs Office said the bishops and USCCB staff will be ready to respond to any executive orders and legislation that the new Congress and President-elect Donald J. Trump may introduce.

The working group will inform the efforts of individual bishops in their pastoral responses to immigrants and refugees and recommend appropriate additional efforts as needed, such as the recent day of prayer on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago outlined some of the responsibilities of the working group in a column in the Dec. 11 issue of the Catholic New World, Chicago’s archdiocesan newspaper.

He said the group will look at what is being done pastorally in U.S. dioceses and will share best practices with bishops.

“Particular attention will be given to addressing the economic struggles, alienation, fear and exclusion many feel, along with the resistance to the church’s message regarding migrants and refugees,” Cardinal Cupich wrote. “Emphasis will be given to ways we can build bridges between various segments of society.”

The working group also will spearhead advocacy, building on existing USCCB efforts, and engage constructively with the incoming administration and Congress, the cardinal said.

The formation of the new entity, which Archbishop Gomez planned to convene weekly, “will send a message to those who live in fear that the Catholic bishops of the United States stand with them, pray with them, offer pastoral support and speak prophetically in defense of their human dignity,” Cardinal Cupich wrote.

He added that the Chicago Archdiocese will continue to “walk with all who, given our broken immigration system, live in the shadows. We will advocate for them as well as for refugees seeking a better life for their families.”

National Migration Week is Jan. 8-14.
  • Published in Nation

Dec. 12 Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe to be day of prayer with focus on migrants, refugees

Prayer services and special Masses will be held in many dioceses across the country as the U.S. Catholic Church has asked that the Dec. 12 feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe be a day of prayer with a focus on migrants and refugees.
 
Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of the Americas.
 
"As Christmas approaches and especially on this feast of Our Lady, we are reminded of how our savior Jesus Christ was not born in the comfort of his own home, but rather in an unfamiliar manger," said a Dec. 1 statement from Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
 
The day of prayer is intended to be a time to place before a merciful God the hopes, fears and needs of all those families who have come to the United States seeking a better life.
 
"So many families are wondering how changes to immigration policy might impact them," Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, USCCB vice president, said in a Dec. 1 statement. "We want them to know the church is with them, offers prayers on their behalf, and is actively monitoring developments at the diocesan, state, and national levels to be an effective advocate on their behalf."
 
The USCCB suggested that Catholics unable to attend such a service or Mass Dec. 12 or who live in an area where one is not being held should "offer prayers wherever they may be." The USCCB's Migration and Refugee Services office has developed a scriptural rosary called "Unity in Diversity" that includes prayers for migrants and refugees. It can be accessed at the Justice for Immigrants website at tinyurl.com/hldg3o9.
 
Another resource suggested by the USCCB is "Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope," the 2003 pastoral letter issued jointly by the bishops of the United States and Mexico. Summary versions of the pastoral are available online in English at tinyurl.com/zpd4tex and in Spanish at tinyurl.com/hy2e69m.
 
"To all those families separated and far from home in uncertain times, we join with you in a prayer for comfort and joy this Advent season," Cardinal DiNardo added.
  • Published in Nation
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