The Universal Church has been celebrating World Day of Migrants and Refugees since 1914, just a few months before the outbreak of World War I. Pope Pius X (Pope from 1903-1914) invited Christians to pray for migrants, after millions of Italians had migrated abroad. In 1985, St. John Paul II was the first pontiff to issue a yearly message, calling the Church to pray and pay attention to some of the realities and difficulties faced by migrants and refugees.
World Day of Migrants and Refugees was initially celebrated on the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany. However, in 2014, Pope Francis shifted the annual celebration from January to the last Sunday of September, at the request of the Bishops’ Conference. In many countries, World Day of Migrants and Refugees is celebrated between 15-29 September 2019. In Malaysia, this was celebrated last Sunday, 22 September 2019.
This year, the Church celebrates the 105th anniversary of World Day of Migrants and Refugees. The Holy Father, Pope Francis has chosen the theme – “It is not just about Migrants” and in his message, the Holy Father invites us to include migrants and refugees in our society, be they newly arrived migrants, or have been long term migrants in a particular country. The Holy Father wants us not to limit our concern for them alone but to also care for ourselves and for everyone. It is not only concerning the migrants and refugees, but also all about us as well as the present and the future of humanity. He wants us to respond to the challenges that we face, by using these four verbs: “to welcome, protect, promote and integrate.” The Holy Father also affirms that when we apply these four verbs in our daily lives “we will help build the city of God and man” and “help the world community to come closer to the goals of sustainable development.”
In our Parish, we have almost 1400 migrants and refugees from Myanmar who are from the Zomi Community. They come and participate in the weekend Masses, every 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month. Rev. Fr. Robert Khan Suan Khai from Myanmar celebrates Mass for their community and looks into their affairs. Currently, he is studying Social Communication in a private university and is residing at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Kuala Lumpur. During the 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month, the migrant children from the Zomi community attend catechism classes.
Besides the Zomi community, we have quite a number of migrants and refugees from Sri Lanka and Pakistan, who are staying within our vicinity. A few of these families receive provision of groceries from our Ministry of the Poor (MOP). Their children attend tuition classes on Mondays and Tuesdays in our Parish, with the assistance of the Parish Educare Ministry.
St. Joseph’s Church always strives to keep to our mission, in reaching out to these migrants and refugees who need to be welcomed protected, promoted and integrated. Over the past few years, the Parish Integral Human Development Ministry (PIHD), which consists of the Parish Ministry of the Poor, Parish Educare Ministry, Parish Women Ministry, Parish Migrant Ministry and Eagle’s Wing, has been assisting and looking into the needs of the migrants and refugees within our community, by providing them with basic staple provisions, education materials, counselling, etc.
We will continue to play our part and make every effort to put into practice the four verbs towards migrants and refugees, adults and children alike – who seek a better life in our land. Let us embrace them with joy and generosity.
By Rev. Fr. George P.