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April 4, 2019
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April 5, 2019

Partnering with the strangers among us

Q: Archbishop J, What has been your Lent highpoint?

Now that is a hard question! I have three:
(1) The sacrifice people made towards the upkeep of the seminary through the annual collection. This was heart warming and I say a profound thanks to all who support the seminary and seminarians in an ongoing way.

(2) The great number of young people who supported the Generation S challenge of fasting for 24 hours. This, too, was amazing. Young and old came together to sacrifice for something bigger than self. Bringing prayer, fasting and almsgiving together for a 24-hour fast was very edifying.

It gave people many opportunities for holy moments. It brought us much closer to Christ and His people as we contributed to rebuilding homes destroyed by fire in Sea Lots.

A moment of grace

The highpoint I will explore here is a recent meeting of the newly formed Archdiocesan Ministry for Migrants and Refugees (AMMR) I attended at the Catholic Bible Institute, Caroni. That was a wonderful moment in the life of the Archdiocese.

Some 86 people, representing 36 parishes, gathered to share their experiences, develop a common vision and deepen the ministry to migrants and refugees in Trinidad and Tobago. There was passion and warmth and a very deep awareness of Christ present to the assembly.

Some parishes have already done wonderful things in this ministry. They have brought people together, welcomed them to the parish and ensured they had a point of reference and contact with the Church.

Other parishes are just beginning and grappling with ways to begin the ministry and attract the migrant and refugee community so they come to trust and begin a partnership with them.

One person shared his experience of being an illegal migrant in a big city. This impelled him to become part of the ministry. One person was from Venezuela, living legally in Trinidad for many years. She shared on the deep despair of many, especially those in the detention centre, how hard it was to keep hope alive.

The sharing seemed to get to the heart of the challenges and proposed solutions.

The beginnings

In my column of May 5, 2018, I called for every parish to begin a ministry to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees in their area. At that stage, the Living Water Community’s ministry for migrants and refugees was the only point of reference for migrants and refugees.

Chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice Leela Ramdeen leads the AMMR. Fr Simon Peter Ango has been working with her to ensure we get as many parishes as possible participating in this ministry to the “stranger” among us.

Less than a year after the initial call, many are participating in this new archdiocesan ministry, opening our parish doors to welcome, protect, promote and integrate migrants and refugees among us. As he speaks to Catholics about the international migrant crisis, Pope Francis uses these same four verbs. We are acting with the Church.

Creating holy moments

In a central text in St Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells His disciples salvation hinges on actions of compassion towards the powerless, those on the margins. Jesus connects salvation with what we have and have not done to those who have no status in society—the prisoner, the hungry, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned (Mt 25:31–46).

In the passage it is interesting that neither those saved nor those damned understand the connection between the acts of compassion and salvation. “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” (Mt 25:37–39, cf 44).

So Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40, 45). An action taken for the poor is an action for Jesus.

A partnership is necessary

For this ministry to grow and develop, we need to form partnerships with those who come. If we were to invite some of our brothers and sisters who are migrants and refugees to partner with us in ministry, we will grow the number of ministers and create a space for ministry to emerge with people helping people.

Remember they come with gifts and skills, and have much to offer. They know the needs of their community better than we do; they know the language and culture better than we do.

Let us embrace them as brothers and sisters participating in the work of God for all of God’s children, not just as people in need. This partnership is vital if we are to do all we can to welcome, protect, promote and integrate the strangers among us.

These four actions will challenge us. We have begun to respond! Through our parishes and the new ministry, we are starting to welcome. Next: to protect. Many are being exploited, underpaid and taken advantage of because they cannot do better.

How do we protect these brothers and sisters? This will require taking what is in the dark and moving it into the light—an opportunity for advocacy—shining the light of Christ on the unjust structures that force people into illegal activities, including prostitution and drugs.

We begin then to promote the cause of the migrant and refugee. Finally, we need to integrate, bring our new friends into the life of our parish—a Mass in Spanish, participation in our choirs and other parish ministries.

Lent is a time when we have the opportunity to do extraordinary acts of kindness in the midst of the ordinariness of our lives. This Lent make a sacrifice, get involved, show compassion to the vulnerable. Give alms. Participate in this movement of grace in which so many are already participating. Remember, we are all called to become Good News to the poor.

Key Message: Lent has presented us with a great opportunity, through our sacrifices, to contribute to our seminary, rebuild homes in Sea Lots and minister to migrants and refugees, and in that way, show compassion and love to the vulnerable, becoming Good News to the poor.

Action Step: Review your commitment to the poor and marginalised; make a step towards the corporal works of mercy this season. See if there is a Ministry for Migrants and Refugees in your parish and find a way to assist. Or, offer to begin one. Remember this is Christ whom we have the opportunity to welcome, protect, promote and integrate.

Scripture Reading: Mathew 25:31–46.