Migrant & Refugee Sunday Celebration – 2016
It was in 1996 that I made my first overseas journey. I went to London for my higher studies in English Literature. That was my first journey outside my country, my first journey in a plane and that too, all alone. From Heathrow airport I had to travel by tube to Kensington where accommodation was arranged for me. Strange country, strange people and strange means of transport and I did not know what to do and I was nearly lost. Then a lady who was from Belfast in Northern Ireland came to me and offered help. She herself bought a train ticket for me and got me into the tube to Kensington. She got my address and used to write to me very often and visited me in London many times. Even after nearly 20 years we are very good friends and we keep in touch with each other. For me she was the face of Christ and feel urged to believe that she regarded it her Christian obligation to care for others and to show mercy to them.
Today, the Catholic Church in Australia is celebrating Migrant and Refugee Sunday and in keeping with the theme for the Jubilee Year of Mercy Pope Francis challenges us to be the face of Mercy to the Migrants and Refugees, people suffering from starvation, violence and shipwreck following the example of Christ the good Shepherd who cares for his flock and is particularly concerned for the needs of the sheep who are wounded, weary or ill. As we know, today more than ever migration is growing worldwide and we hear everyday heart renting stories of people fleeing their own homes to escape violence, war and starvation.
Our challenge today is to hear in their cry for help the voice of Jesus himself who says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” and to open the door of our heart in welcome. Our challenge is to proclaim in our words and deeds that Migrants are our brothers and sisters and that it is our responsibility to be their keepers wherever they live unlike Cain in the OT. The words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mathew, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” should linger in our ears always.
The Migrant and Refugee Sunday celebration in this great Jubilee Year of Mercy and the Gospel of Mercy should motivate us to encounter and identify with those in our community who are in need of strength and consolation, who often experience a deep sense of loneliness, anxiety and fear. It is in these situations that we need to be witnesses to the Gospel of Mercy and show a caring hand to those around us through our spiritual and corporal works of mercy. It is about moving beyond ourselves, beyond our own comfort zones and reaching out to those who are in need of our help. We need to break our shell of selfishness and self- centredness and become more outward looking, seeing the face of Christ in the suffering and needy.
It is often the simplest of things that can make the biggest of differences for the migrants and refugees in our community: instead of turning our face away, a simple smile to mean that I welcome you and I respect you, and instead of avoiding them, a short conversation asking how you are and if everything is ok, to mean that I am concerned about you. In other words, doing something little but beautiful which will have a tremendous effect on the needy and the lonely. This is the beginning of encounter and it is from here we move forward together in solidarity, exchanging stories of each other, giving to and receiving from the other and contributing together to the welfare of the community. We need to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but as an opportunity. I think this should be the end result of our Migrant and Refugee Sunday celebration this year.
My friends, as Pope Francis said at the World Youth Day our challenge today is to take the path of the “craziness” of our God, that is caring for those in need, be they neighbours, strangers, prisoners, refugees or migrants. As Christians, as disciples of Christ we cannot escape the Lord’s words to us in the Gospel of Mathew which will serve as the criterion upon which we will be judged: whether we have fed the hungry and given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger and clothed the naked, or spent time with the sick and those in prison. Amen.