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Progress on Parish Ministries for Migrants and Refugees

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, & Director, CREDI
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“The Church is ever mindful that Jesus Christ was himself a refugee, that as a child he had to flee with his parents from his native land in order to escape persecution. In every age, therefore, the Church feels herself called to help refugees.” – St Pope John Paul II, 1981.

Today, let’s reflect on the progress that is being made in parishes to launch/implement a Parish Ministry for Migrants and Refugees.

The Committee that Archbishop Jason established in May—the Archdiocesan Ministry for Migrants and Refugees (AMMR), has been working diligently to support parishes as they launch their Parish Ministries for Migrants and Refugees (PMMR), seeking to strengthen the capacity of Catholics in our Archdiocese and by extension, the wider community, to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate migrants and refugees in T&T.

The work of the AMMR falls within the remit of CCSJ. The Committee which I Chair, comprises Rhonda Maingot, Living Water Community (LWC), Rochelle Nakhid (LWC), and Fr Simon Peter Ango. All parishes would have received a package of resources from the Committee, including para-liturgy, a video, posters, and a newsletter containing 20 pastoral action points to assist with the launch/implementation of their  Ministries http://www.rcsocialjusticett.org/downloads/parishlinkmay2018.pdf. Further resources, such as a Tool Kit, will be circulated shortly.

The Committee is working closely with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and some of the agency’s employees have been contributing to parish meetings, along with committee members and some LWC staff with responsibility for this area of work.

So far, parish priests and deacons have been taking a lead in parishes that have launched their PMMR e.g. Assumption; St Francis of Assisi, Sangre Grande; St Paul’s, Couva; and St Joseph’s. We know that transformation won’t take place overnight. It is important to start a conversation in each parish to raise awareness of the issues involved in building such a Ministry and to ask questions when necessary. Those involved to date are aware of the difference that parishioners can make in the lives of migrants and refugees who come to our shores.

We urge parishes to ensure that this Ministry is not built in isolation from other parish ministries. For example, it is imperative that the Society of St Vincent de Paul works collaboratively with PMMRs so that tasks are not duplicated. Indeed, the entire parish should work together to welcome the stranger. Matthew 25: 31–46 remains a key scriptural message underpinning this Ministry.

In T&T there are over 20 countries from which migrants and refugees originate. While there is no legislation here in dealing with refugees, there is a National Policy to Address Refugee and Asylum Matters in Trinidad & Tobago, adopted by Cabinet in June 2014. Parishes are being made aware during our sessions of the implications of seeking to meet the needs of migrants and refugees in the absence of domestic legislation.

In spite of the challenges that we face in seeking to build this Ministry in the absence of domestic legislation, there is much that we can and must do as Catholics to reach out in love and solidarity as we seek to build bridges of hope and to build an inclusive society.

Parishes have recognised the need to provide: food, clothing, shelter, basic health care, psycho-social and spiritual support, education for children and adults e.g. English language instruction, translation services, help in adjusting to T&T’s culturally diverse society, friendship, spaces where they can meet to socialise and so on.

The openness/generosity demonstrated by parishioners to date is heartening. This augurs well for this Ministry. The positive attitudes being expressed at parish level is an indication that the faithful is up to meeting the challenges and opportunities that exist. Love of neighbour requires us to build bridges and not walls.

It is important to recognise that migrants and refugees arrive with many skills and talents. Many are unable to use these as they are unable to work. However, parishes are finding ways of drawing on these skills and of promoting the dignity of each one.

What has been useful also at parish meetings is the presence of individuals who now live here but who came from the countries from which some migrants and refugees originate. Parishes should draw on their knowledge in any needs analysis that is being conducted.

Let us pray to Our Lady of the Wayside, to whom His Grace has entrusted this Ministry, to intercede for us that this initiative bears much fruit.