migrant refugee sunday 2013Homily for Mass – Migrant and Refugee Sunday

(Our Lady of the Assumption Church, Park Ridge: 8am;  Saint Catherine’s Church, Jimboomba: 5.30pm)

25 August 2013

The annual migrant and refugee week comes at a time when this topic is fresh in our minds.  Hardly a day goes by that there is not something in the press about it.  Because of this bombardment with emotive presentations from various quarters it’s probably become a difficult issue to have a sensible and rational conversation about.  Even the very mention of it probably causes some people to tune out.  The fact that the issue has been politicized and is now a vote-winning tool doesn’t help the situation either.

In looking through the message that Pope Benedict wrote for this occasion, and also the message from Bishop Hanna who is the Australian Bishops’ delegate for migrants and refugees, I think there are some points that we, as Catholics, should be able to take on board.

One is that Australia is a country that has been built up by migration.  The presence of peoples from a variety of homelands is something that really is part of our national identity.  We don’t need to look any further than in the Church.  I’ve said it often over the years, but we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Irish, including the priests and religious sisters, and also the laity, who did so much for the Church in Australia in earlier days.  Fifty years ago it would have been hard to find a church in Australia that didn’t have a statue of Saint Patrick!  Today, the baton has been passed on from the Irish.  But still, today, in most parishes, if you were to take out all the migrants there wouldn’t be many people left sitting in the pews!

So as we look at our experience of migration to our county, I think we can agree with these words of Benedict XVI: “Migrants and refugees can experience, along with difficulties, new, welcoming relationships which enable them to enrich their new countries with their professional skills, their social and cultural heritage and, not infrequently, their witness of faith, which can bring new energy and life to communities of ancient Christian tradition, and invite others to encounter Christ and to come to know the Church.” (1, p. 6)

It’s good if we can keep all that in mind as we face our present situation.  It is to be acknowledged that there are various rights that are coming into conflict and that need to be addressed in various ways.  The first is the right to migrate.  This was affirmed in the document of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et spes, at paragraph 65: the right to migrate is numbered among the fundamental human rights, allowing persons to settle wherever they consider best for the realization of their abilities, aspirations and plans.  Benedict XVI recalls as well that an even more fundamental right than the right to migrate is the right to remain in one’s homeland.  Blessed John Paul II stated, “It is a basic human right to live in one’s own country.  However this right becomes effective only if the factors that urge people eo emigrate are constantly kept under control.”  Pope Benedict acknowledged that “Today in fact we can see that many migrations are the result of economic instability, the lack of essential goods, natural disasters, wars and social unrest.  … migration then becomes an ordeal undertaken for the sake of survival …”

To these two rights is also added the right of every state to regulate migration, and to enact policies dictated by the general requirements of the common good, albeit always in safeguarding respect for the dignity of each human person (Benedict XVI).  One service that Christian people can offer is to help facilitate a rational dialogue on how these different rights can be respected.

A Christian response to this issue will necessarily focus on the human dimension of migrants and refugees.  Bishop Hanna suggests that it is the duty of the Catholic community to shift the level of the discussion on migrants and refugees away from debate about perceived economic liabilities and national security, to points which focus on the ethical dimension: focusing on the good of the person and one’s inalienable rights.  We should reflect on how we can be agents of faith and hope for migrants and refugees.  He urges individuals, parishes, ethnic chaplaincies and other Catholic agencies to initiate programs of awareness aimed at making the causes of migration known.

At the crux of it, we need the compassion and empathy to try to place ourselves in the shoes of another.  Today let’s pray for wisdom and guidance as we face this issue in our land.  Let’s pray that we as Christians can make a positive contribution to the discourse on this topic.  Above all may we be people of hope and faith, trusting in the Lord who helps us overcome obstacles and difficulties, recognizing that all of us are on a journey – a pilgrimage of faith and hope – to our heavenly homeland.  Let’s pray that we will be good fellow-travellers to everyone else on this journey with us.

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1. ACMRO Migrant Resource Kit 2013  Date added: 20/08/2013  (http://www.catholic.org.au/index.php?option=com_docman&Itemid=355)