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The Challenge of Migration

‘Share the Journey’ campaign puts a spotlight on the plight of refugees and migrants

By FATHER CYRUS GALLAGHER
12/01/2017 | Comments

(In September, Pope Francis opened the “Share the Journey” campaign to help raise awareness of the plight of refugees and migrants who have fled their homelands due to poverty, violence and other causes. The campaign will take advantage of specially-designated days throughout the year to raise awareness, including the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Dec. 12 and National Migration Week in January. For more information, visit www.sharejourney.org.

 

What would it take for you to stop reading here, get up immediately and depart from your home, with only the clothes you are wearing, with whatever money you may have in your pocket?  Pause. Think about it seriously. Fire? Flood already at your feet? Hurricane? Tornado? Earthquake?

I myself vividly remember hearing a loud knock on the front door of our Capuchin friary when a sheriff’s deputy arrived to notify us that we had 15 minutes to evacuate because wind was driving the Black Forest fire in our direction. We drove to our friary in downtown Colorado Springs and could not return for a week. Not everybody had the opportunity we did.

Some have been forced to run toward safety from forest fires in California. Many have fled from hurricanes and rising waters in Texas and Florida.  We know that Puerto Rico may never fully recover. Many have sought safety in cellars and pits in a tornado and have come up to find rubble where once was a home.

We know of such realities by watching the evening news. But most of the people in our own homeland run from danger toward reasonable safety and almost-certain security with sympathetic friends or government officials who speak their language and who have available resources to welcome them, at least for a while.

But what urgency or state of mind would have you continue to run toward uncertain safety and hoped-for security — even beyond your own country toward an unknown land, people and language, with money that cannot be spent or exchanged?  Pause. Think about it seriously. Violence?  Hopelessness? Fear?

“The angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph with the command: ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you otherwise. Herod is searching for the child to destroy him.’ Joseph got up immediately and took the child and his mother and left that night for Egypt.” (Mt 2:13-14) Immediately. At night.

Louisa was 15 years old and living in El Salvador. She resisted the “invitation” from other adolescents to “join our group” because she knew of their violence, drugs and promiscuous lifestyle. One evening a loud bang at the door found a black plastic bag filled with body parts and a note saying “This is you if you do not join us.” According to her grandmother, that night Louisa slipped away alone in a desperate hope to escape to the United States by foot.  The body of a young woman matching Louisa’s description was found drowned at the edge of Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal.

Alejandro first saw a computer when he was four years old, and living in Colombia. At age 14, he owned one. By age 19, talented and successful, Alejandro employed 20 workers in a high-tech business. Alejandro and his family, undocumented and in secret, fled violence in Colombia in 1998, paying thousands of dollars to a “coyote” only to be dropped off and abandoned at the Mexico border in Arizona.

As a matter of fact, an average of  20 families a minute are leaving home for similar reasons just like that right now — 20 families a minute!1 Most of them are far away. We cannot help them.

But some of them are close, in our own city.

I have heard many speak of reasons why undocumented laborers here in our country should not be tolerated. The reason I have heard most often is: “They are taking our jobs.”

Alejandro, now living in poverty with his family at Annunciation Parish in Denver, once told me: “When I hear ‘You are taking my job,’ I say, you can have it. Meet me at 4 a.m. tomorrow at the edge of the onion field. You can take my place at the end of the row. Weed it. It is just about a mile long. At the end, in 5 hours, or 10, however fast you work, you will receive $15. That is if the inspector thinks you have done well. If not, you receive nothing. Here is my job, your job if you want it.”

Migration affects us as well as almost every corner of the world. The regions most affected, in terms of people fleeing violence and extreme poverty, are Africa and the Middle East, challenging countries in these regions to accommodate millions of migrants. People in the United States tend to focus only on migrants bound for this country, without fully realizing that the vast majority if the world’s migrants seek entrance into other countries. Even in Latin America many migrants flee to countries other than the United States. The United States has not experienced a massive influx of desperately needy people comparable to the waves of immigrants that have entered many other countries. But some do come to the United States.

Pope Francis, in a speech at the United Nations, said: “To enable these real men and women to escape extreme poverty, we must allow them to be the dignified agents of their own destiny.”2 Anyone volunteer to trade jobs with Alejandro? Or offer him a living wage?

The Catholic Church’s teaching on migration has come to focus on five principles:3

1. People have a right to find opportunity in their own homeland.

2. People in significant need have a right to migrate to find support for themselves and their families.

3. Sovereign nations have the right to control their borders.

4. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.

5. The human dignity and human rights of undocumented migrants should be respected.

We know the teaching of our bishops. We also know, at least from the news, if not from personal experience, there are migrant people in our state and in our hometown. Is there anything you and I can actually do to help these people who are looking for assistance, safety, security, compassion? There are organizations that are working to help migrants, including Catholic Charities of Central Colorado (719-636-2345), Catholic Relief Services (410-625-2220), and the American Immigration Center (https://www.us-immigration.com/immigrant-resources.jsp).

“The angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph with the command: ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you otherwise. Herod is searching for the child to destroy him.’ Joseph got up immediately and took the child and his mother and left that night for Egypt.” (Mt 2:13-14) Immediately. At night.

There are many Josephs, Louisas, and Alejandros.

What would it take for you to stop reading here, get up immediately and depart from your home, with only the clothes you are wearing, with whatever money you may have in your pocket? Pause. Think about it seriously. Fire? Flood? Hurricane? Tornado?  Earthquake?

What urgency or state of mind would have you continue to run toward uncertain safety and hoped-for security? Even beyond your own country, toward an unknown land, toward unknown people, toward an unknown language, with money that cannot be spent or exchanged? Violence?  Hopelessness? Fear?

 

Footnotes

1Catholic Relief Services (CRS) statistic as of October 2017.

2Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations. September 25, 2015.

3“Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

(Capuchin Father Cyrus Gallagher is a Catholic Relief Services Global Fellow who also ministers at The Catholic Center at The Citadel.)


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