Every year, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees (WDMR) falls on the last Sunday of September. This year, it will be celebrated on 27 September. The Holy Father Pope Francis, has chosen the theme: “Like Jesus Christ, Forced to Flee,” with a special “focus on the need for pastoral care of internally displaced persons.” They are numbered over 41 million worldwide. The WDMR is a day that we are called to remember those who are struggling with conflict, persecution, violence, poverty, hopelessness and life of fear. The WDMR is always an occasion of expressing concern for “many different vulnerable people on the move, to pray for their challenges and to increase awareness about the opportunities that migration offers.”
The Origin of the WDMR:
The WDMR originated in the beginning of the 20th century, before the outbreak of World War I, where millions of Italians migrated abroad. Pope Pius X called all Christians to pray for migrants. In 1914, his successor Pope Benedict XV, instituted the Day of the Migrant to support pastoral work for Italian migrants – spiritually and economically. In 1952, Migrant Day has been celebrated in the liturgical year. St John Paul II was the first pontiff to release a message each year concerning the realities and difficulties of migrants, inviting the Church to pray and to take action. In 2004, Saint John Paul II extended his pastoral care to the refugees, calling it World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Initially, it was celebrated on the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany. However, in January 2018 Pope Francis announced that the WDMR would be celebrated on the last Sunday of September.
Here is the summary of the Holy Father’s message for the 106th WDMR for the year 2020.
We, Christians are called to see the face of Christ in the faces of migrants and refugees. We need to respond to their challenges – spiritually and pastorally, with four verbs which Pope Francis indicated in his message during WDMR 2018: “Welcome, Protect, Promote and Integrate.” To these words, he developed his theme with six sub-themes for WDMR 2020:
- TO KNOW IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND: Whenever we deal with them, we should not remain just knowing them at statistics level, but we should encounter them by knowing their real-life stories to be able to understand them better.
- TO BE CLOSE IN ORDER TO SERVE: Our fears and prejudices keep us distant from them and prevent us from serving them with love as our true neighbours.
- TO BE RECONCILED, WE NEED TO LISTEN: A lot of issues arise among them and we need to have humility and attentiveness in listening to the plea of the vulnerable and displaced persons. Listening gives us an opportunity to be reconciled with them, ourselves and God.
- IN ORDER TO GROW, IT IS NECESSARY TO SHARE: All the resources of this planet should be benefitted by all and not few. We have to learn to share, in order to grow truly and grow together, leaving none behind.
- TO BE INVOLVED IN ORDER TO PROMOTE: We must make them involved and be responsible in promoting “new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity.”
- TO COOPERATE IN ORDER TO BUILD: It is our duty to cooperate together in all challenges, to preserve our common home. We too must “commit ourselves to ensuring international cooperation, global solidarity and local commitment, leaving no one behind” in building the Kingdom of God.
The Holy father concluded his message with a prayer that reflects on the theme for WDMR 2020. He said it draws inspiration from the example of St Joseph, the Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary – at the time he was forced to flee to Egypt, to save the child Jesus.
Father, you entrusted to Saint Joseph what you held most precious: the child Jesus and his Mother, in order to protect them from the dangers and threats of the wicked.
Grant that we may experience his protection and help. May he, who shared in the sufferings of those who flee from the hatred of the powerful, console and protect all our brothers and sisters driven by war, poverty and necessity to leave their homes and their lands to set out as refugees for safer places.
Help them, through the intercession of Saint Joseph, to find the strength to persevere, give them comfort in sorrows and courage amid their trials.
Grant to those who welcome them, some of the tender love of this just and wise father, who loved Jesus as a true son and sustained Mary at every step of the way.
May he, who earned his bread by the work of his hands, watch over those who have seen everything in life taken away and obtain for them the dignity of a job and the serenity of a home.
We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son, whom Saint Joseph saved by fleeing to Egypt, and trusting in the intercession of the Virgin Mary, whom he loved as a faithful husband in accordance with your will. Amen.
Rev. Fr. George Packiasamy