On Sept. 27, Pope Francis is inviting all of us to take one of the most exciting and meaningful trips of our lives. We can go around the world. Or we can stay in our hometown. Either way, this is not to be missed.
That’s the day that the Catholic Church launches its two-year “Share the Journey” campaign that asks us to encounter – spiritually, intellectually and physically – not just the fact that our world is filled with migrants and refugees, but the people themselves. Hear their stories, learn how they have been forced from their homes by warfare, gang violence, floods, droughts, storms, fires, earthquakes, mudslides, systemic poverty and other catastrophes in numbers we haven’t seen since World War II.
When you do that, those issues you hear about in the news – the travel ban, the limits on refugee resettlement, the “Dreamers” act– will no longer be abstract. They will be real, affecting people you have come to know.
The Catholic Church is asking us to pray, to meditate, to consider deep in our souls the situation of these brothers and sisters of ours. Half of them are children, by the way, so young they could have had nothing to do with creating the circumstances that led to their flight. That’s true of almost every one of these migrants; that so many of them are children puts that fact in stark relief.
Do as Pope Francis asks and through your prayers and contemplation really come to understand what it means to leave your home behind. You will realize that this is not something undertaken by people who are a threat to our or any other country. You will appreciate that hardly anyone flees from their home voluntarily. They do so only when they see no better choice.
And then you will commit yourself to making sure that they have a better choice. Understanding is just the first step. Do not stop there. Francis wants us to “Share the Journey” in tangible ways and this means encountering some of those 65 million who have been forced from their home – 40 million within their countries, 25 million refugees who have crossed into other countries.
I have been privileged to do this through my work with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the overseas humanitarian agency of the Catholic Church in the United States. CRS works with refugees and migrants in countries around the world.
I have visited Iraqi refugees in Jordan. Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and in Egypt. South Sudanese refugees in Egypt and in Uganda. I have seen them in camps, in crowded apartments and individual homes. I have met their children and heard their stories. You can see them in the pictures.
They are our brothers and sisters who have often endured tremendous trauma, faced enormous obstacles, but they have not given up. They find hope in places where we would never look for it. It is so personally inspiring to encounter them, a privilege to be allowed to share their journeys.
Often equally inspiring are the people in the communities hosting these refugees, opening their homes and their hearts to those in need. What we saw in our country after the hurricanes in Texas and Florida is happening every day around the world. In fact, the vast majority of refugees in the world are non-Christian, but that makes no difference to the many, many Christians whom I have seen and joined in serving them, people who are hearing the call of Pope Francis to realize that the essence of our faith is to keep our eyes on others, to see and understand what they are going through.
You probably will not have the same opportunity to travel the world to meet migrants and refugees. But you can still find them, probably in your community. Please seek out an organization such as CRS that serves refugees overseas, or Catholic Charities that works with them in the United States. Meet them. Talk with them Find out their story. Invite them to lunch. Invite them to your church. They are not the “other” and neither are we. All of us are members of God’s family.
I am pleased that the Catholic Church in the United States has shown particular leadership in serving migrants and refugees here and throughout the world. It is not surprising as we have always been a church of migrants, founded by those fleeing religious persecution, populated by immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Poland and many other European countries in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as we are now with immigrants from Latin America and many other countries around the world.
So join us on this journey. It is a trip you will always be glad that you took. #ShareJourney
Bishop Gregory John Mansour is chairman of Catholic Relief Services, the officials overseas humanitarian organization of the Catholic community in the United States.