Story and photo by Lara Pickford-Gordon
Fr Robert Stark SSS, regional coordinator, North America, Mexico, Central America and Caribbean for the Vatican Migrants and Refugees Section, was impressed with how fast the North Western Migrant Ministry (NWMM) responded to the challenges in meeting the needs of the migrant community.
The Section, headed by Pope Francis, helps the Church to accompany refugees, those who are forced to migrate or victims of human trafficking.
Fr Stark said he would tell Pope Francis the stories of the migrant ministries, “nothing gives him joy more than to hear, to see this”, he said December 17 at St Peter’s RC Church, Carenage, as he began his four-day visit to Trinidad.
Fr Stark had a packed schedule visiting migrant ministries in Penal, Mayaro and Arima as well as meetings with clergy and religious, United Nations, Living Water Community and other stakeholders involved in the response to migrants.
Fr Stark was accompanied by Chair of the Archdiocesan Ministry for Migrants and Refugees (AMMR) Leela Ramdeen, AMMR Coordinator Simone Francois-Whittier, and member, Fr Simon Peter Ango.
Present were Fr Harold Imamshah, parish priest at St Peter’s along with the members of the NWMM which comprises St Peter’s, St Finbar’s, Church of the Nativity/St Anthony’s and St John’s.
Fr Imamshah gave an overview of the Hispanic ministry with the first Spanish Mass held at St Peter’s March this year and subsequent Masses rotated at Nativity, and St John’s. Food, clothing and other items are distributed after Masses.
He told Fr Stark the migrants are not only from Venezuela but also Colombia, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and “other places”.
The St Peter’s parish has a WhatsApp group in which migrants network to get news about jobs etc. He said the ministry was at the stage of “providing sacramental ministry” since migrants are asking for the sacraments: Baptisms, First Communion, Confirmation.
Dr Theresa Yorke Metzger from St Finbar’s shared that the ministry, which started a year ago, was still at the “fledgling stage” but every day they were learning. She disclosed that one of the things they were trying to “get a handle on” was the number of migrants actually living within the area.
People were coming from Santa Cruz, Belmont, Cunupia to access help. The need for food, jobs, and English language classes were identified. She said a lot more migrants have come into the parish and the ministry encourages them to attend Mass.
Francis Apparicio, also of St Finbar’s said he visited the health centres in the Carenage, Petit Valley and Diego Martin areas and prepared a list of all the services available in both English and Spanish with dates and times. Apparico disclosed that he accompanied migrants on job interviews and negotiated wages to prevent exploitation. Fr Stark remarked that this was a “ministry of negotiating” and said it was excellent. “You are promoting an encounter through negotiation, they are seeing what it means to be a Good Samaritan through negotiation”, he commented.
Fr Stark suggested that the ministries could “tap into” the migrants’ capacity to help each other and in so doing introduce the simple values of welcome, protect, promote, and integrate – the watchwords of the AMMR. It also helped them “to recognise that they are not just receiving”, he said.
One of the things the Migrants and Refugees Section has found in different experiences around the world, was when migrants gather together for a meal, “the meals are around the Eucharist…the meal is an extension of the Eucharist,” and they get to practice their language. “That’s what makes our ministry, our accompaniment [of migrants] different,” Fr Stark said.
Exploitation of migrants and human trafficking was also raised. Fr Stark presented booklets, Pastoral Orientation on Human Trafficking and Towards the Global Compacts on Migrants and Refugees.