This story was originally published in The Catholic Leader.
“Let’s be attentive to details,” said Fr Pettena, the director of the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office, launching the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees to be held on Sunday, August 26.
“Hear their cry – where they come from, what price they had to pay to be able to persevere in their faith.”
Sometimes migrants voluntarily leave their homelands in search of a better future. Others are forced to flee because they have been displaced by natural disasters, war, religious persecution, political oppression and grinding poverty.
According to the latest annual figures, from 2015, from the International Organisation for Migration, there were 244 million international migrants.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates there are 65.6 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.
Fr Pettena points to the four-point “action plan” outlined by Pope Francis in his message for this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
The Pope wrote that “welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees” were essential to the Christian faith.
“Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age (Matthew 25:35-43),” Pope Francis wrote.
The Church plays an important part in Australia’s migration program through the provision of pastoral care and resettlement programs, however, Fr Pettena said there was much that could be done at a grassroots level.
He said it was not enough for a parish to simply put on a welcoming morning tea after Mass and expect migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers to instantly fit in after that.
Rather, he said, it took a dedicated, long-term effort to help integrate newcomers into a local Catholic community.
“Let’s create some space where they can share their history – so that their history becomes some sort of spiritual light or salt for the community,” he said.
“If we want to understand the history, the trauma, the life of people who come and ask for asylum in this country we need to understand the push factors that have pushed them out, and to reflect on those factors from the point of view of the Gospel.”
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Fr Pettena, director of the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office.
(Photo credit: Mark Bowling)