Share the journey

Jesus’ questions sound so easy but the answers can be complicated. “When did you see Me homeless? Who is your neighbor?” When Jesus asks a question He expects us to respond with action, not philosophical musing. Thus, in 1943, while World War II was raging through Europe, Catholic Relief Services came into existence to help people displaced by the violence. Seventy-five years since CRS first took care of the millions of refugees wandering across Europe, it is still providing care and raising awareness of the plight of migrants.

The care of migrants is an ancient mandate found deep within our Judeo-Christian roots. Pope Francis’ message on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2016 reminds us that “Biblical revelation urges us to welcome the stranger; it tells us that in so doing, we open our doors to God, and that in the faces of others we see the face of Christ Himself.” The essence of Catholic Social teaching is the belief in the inherent dignity of the human person. It is this principle that underscores the Church’s effort to provide care and protection for displaced people, striving to “create a world where immigrants, migrants, refugees and people on the move are treated with dignity, respect, welcome and belonging,” according to USCCB Migration and Refugees Services.

Through the years CRS has learned many valuable lessons on how to care for families displaced from their home countries. The number-one lesson they have learned is that people do not leave their homes by choice, but mostly to escape violence. Families are fleeing war-torn countries across the globe, in places like Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar. The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) tracks the movement of the 44,000 displaced people who leave their countries every day. They walk away from their homes and face perils along the way that most of us can never imagine. This is why Pope Francis felt it necessary to help us to understand their struggle. On Sept. 27, 2017 Pope Francis launched a two-year campaign called “Share the Journey” to raise awareness of the plight of migrants around the world.

 “Share the Journey” is being sponsored by Caritas Internationalis, the Church’s worldwide charity organization. Here in the United States the campaign is supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA. “The Holy Father wants us to feel this personally,” says Sister Donna Markham, O.P., Ph.D, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA. “Each of us must work to encounter the migrants and refugees who are all around us. All too often they seem invisible to us. We need to hear their stories, literally share their journeys, and see them as our brothers and sisters.” 

The goal of “Share the Journey” is to ask each of us to be a witness of our faith by taking a stand in support of migrants. One of the ways this is being done is to organize symbolic pilgrimages around the country to walk in solidarity with migrants and refugees. By Nov. 13, 2018 it is hoped that United States Catholics will have walked the distance of the Earth: 24,900 miles. “Share the Journey” is not a fund-raiser, but a consciousness-raiser. On August 7 the Diocese of Fall River will add miles to the goal by taking part in “Share the Journey” during the Catholic Youth Day celebration on Martha’s Vineyard. Three hundred youth from around the diocese have been invited by Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., to join him on this pilgrimage, which will culminate in a special celebration of their faith. The day will be filled with music, prayer, fun and food, but it will begin with a solid show of support for our brothers and sisters around the world who have been displaced from their home countries.

The pilgrimage will begin when the youth get onboard buses at the Catholic high schools in each deanery. They will converge at Woods Hole on Cape Cod where they will board the ferry to Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. The youth and their adult chaperones will begin the three-mile walk to Vineyard Haven where they will gather at St. Augustine Church for the Catholic Youth Day festivities.

The celebration of Catholic Youth Day on Martha’s Vineyard is one part of the Diocese of Fall River’s focus on youth that began on June 27 with their listening session with Bishop da Cunha. The youth have stepped forward to be heard and to pick up the mantle of service that is central to our Catholic mission. 

After the pilgrimage on Martha’s Vineyard there will be a diocesan-wide service project that focuses on welcoming our immigrant families. 

All youth of our parishes and schools will continue Pope Francis’ call to raise awareness about global migration by collecting items that will be included in welcome packages for those newly-arrived immigrants to our diocese. The youth will come together on March 31, 2019 at the Diocesan Youth Convention to culminate their service, celebrate their effort, and to lead our diocese into the future. 

Anchor columnist Claire McManus is the director of the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation. 

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts