My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
The 106th World Day of Migrants and Refugees has been changed from the week before the Epiphany to this present week in September, allowing for a greater celebration outside of the Christmas season. The theme for this year given to us by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is:
“Like Jesus Christ, forced to flee, Welcoming, protecting and integrating internally displaced persons.” How important this theme is as we remember the story in the Gospel of Matthew regarding the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt to save the life of the Child that was wanted by King Herod.
Today, unfortunately, there are many people who flee. This message itself is dedicated to those who are internal migrants. We have seen around the world and even in our own country how many people have been displaced by wildfires, hurricanes, and in Beirut, Lebanon, by a devastating explosion. Now we speak in terms of hundreds of thousands of people who have lost their homes and certainly for a good period of time will not be able to re-establish themselves. They have become environmental migrants. They are displaced persons in their own country.
The world statistics are staggering in that over 24 million people are estimated by the United Nations to be internally displaced in their own homelands for many reasons; persecution, war, natural disasters, and other issues. This year’s message reminds us that migrants are not necessarily foreigners, but they can be our own neighbors.
This year’s message gives us the Holy Father’s use of grammatical composition and shows his juxtaposition of one word to another. For example, there are six sets of verbs, that now Pope Francis adds to welcome, protect and integrate, in his 2018 message. The new words added are: to be involved and to cooperate and to share.
Our Holy Father truly is a good teacher, giving practical advice as we try to understand the social teaching of the Church on migration, which can easily be misunderstood. Pope Francis reminds us that we need to know in order to understand.
Our knowledge of immigration should not be taken from sensationalist reporting. Rather, we need to understand not just statistics, which sometimes can be misleading, but the people behind those statistics. Again, our Holy Father tells us that it is necessary to be close in order to serve. We cannot fear migrants as carriers of disease or those who might displace us from our own place of work. Rather, we need to draw closer to these people even if it means a risk so that we can wash the feet as Jesus did for His disciples.
In order to be reconciled, we need to listen. God, Himself, taught us this by sending His Son into the world that He wanted reconciliation of all humankind to Himself. And so, we need to move out from our circle of comfort to listen to those who are migrants, those who have been displaced, and those who have been discarded in our society. For it is in listening to them, we are reconciled with them and to our maker.
In order to grow, it is necessary to share. Sharing was an essential element of the first Christian community. None of them held on to what they had; they held things in common. On the coronavirus pandemic, the Holy Father tells us, “The pandemic has reminded us how we are all in the same boat. Realizing that we have the same concerns and fears has shown us once more that no one can be saved alone.” The coronavirus has become the great leveler. We all have suffered its ill effects, especially those who are not in permanent homes.
We need to be involved in order to promote. Pope Francis tells us, “The pandemic has reminded us of how essential co responsibility is, and that only with the contribution of everyone — even of those groups so often underestimated — can we face this crisis. We must find ‘the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. (Meditation in Saint Peter’s Square, 27 March 2020).’ ”
Involvement means that we do not stand on the sidelines, but try to participate in the welcoming of migrants, not only in a spiritual way but also in a political way so that we understand the mandate of the Lord, one in which we will be judged that welcoming strangers means that we welcome Him.
Again, it is necessary to cooperate in order to build. Yes, without cooperation, we cannot build the Kingdom of God, which is our common duty. We build God’s Kingdom by recognizing that the Kingdom is not ours, but that it belongs to all. As our Holy Father says, “This is not a time for self-centeredness, because the challenge we are facing is shared by all, without distinguishing between persons.” (Urbi et Orbi Message, 12 April 2020).
As we view the world today, we recognize that migration, both international and internal, is part and parcel of the mobility crisis which we find in the world today. The Scripture gives us much to think about, as well as the words of the Holy Father in this social teaching that he annunciates. We must recognize and do what we can to ameliorate the situation of those who find themselves homeless in the world today.
As chair of the Board of Trustees of the Center for Migration Studies located here in New York City, our annual gala — this year, virtually — was held on Tuesday, September 22. This annual opportunity allowed CMS to seek support for the wonderful work accomplished by this respected organization inspired by Blessed Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, who worked in the world of migrants and continues to inspire their work. CMS studies the phenomenon of migration, publishes a journal and other publications to inform people of the reality of migration.
This year’s CMS gala honored two unions, especially their immigrant workers who have become first responders. First, the Transport Workers Union, whose multi-ethnic workforce has made our Subways safe for us to travel, and the United Healthcare Workers East, who were on the front lines in our hospitals and care centers.
Recently, CMS conducted some studies on the reality of immigrant workers as first responders. We recognize that in New York City, these people form the backbone of this first-responder network that is so important to us as we live our daily lives in our great City.
Should you wish to contribute to this wonderful organization, you may do so by visiting cmsny.org.
As we put out into the deep work of the reality of trying to understand migration in our world today, in a certain sense, we all become pilgrims and migrants in a world that is increasingly difficult to understand. I ask you to join me as we pray for all of the displaced persons in the world today, that they will find the necessary support needed to continue their lives in peace.
Follow Bishop DiMarzio on: Twitter @BpDiMarzio