September 27 marked the kickoff of a global, two-year campaign of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to raise awareness and foster solidarity with the estimated 65 million migrants who are on the move worldwide.
Locally, a group of global solidarity minsters from throughout the Diocese gathered at St. Andrew’s Newman Center in Riverside to mark the occasion by sharing stories of their work over the past 18 months helping to resettle refugees who have come to the Diocese.
“We are in an era of global migration and it’s forced migration,” said Kathryn Morton. “It’s now impossible to ignore this crisis.”
Morton is one of four parishioners from St. Andrew’s who decided in February of 2016 that they must do something locally to respond to the global refugee crisis that had come to widespread attention the year before. They soon joined with other faith communities to form the Interfaith Coalition for Refugee Families.
Members of that group joined in the kickoff gathering for Share the Journey. They shared anecdotes on the difficult and sometimes heartbreaking task of accompanying refugee families. Trips to the doctor and interactions with school teachers on behalf of the family were just some of the stories shared.
“Helping refugees can be very romanticized,” said coalition member Dalia Martinez, who shared her experience of ministering to a refugee family of six from Syria. “But it also stretches the limits of your capacity as a human being.”
The Interfaith Coalition for Refugee Families has helped to resettle 20 families in the Inland area since its formation last year.
There were indirect references at the gathering to anti-immigrant and anti-migrant sentiments that have emerged nationally since the election of Donald Trump as President last November. The White House announced Sept. 28 the lowering of the refugee cap to 45,000 people for 2018, a number significantly below the 75,000 proposed earlier in the month by the U.S. bishops. Rabbi Suzanne Singer, a coalition member, suggested instead that “we need to push the narrative of love and compassion.”
Pope Francis kicked off “Share the Journey” at the Vatican Sept. 27 with a symbolic gesture of reaching out to those displaced from their homes. The local group gathered in Riverside repeated that gesture in some photographs taken for social media promotion. The kickoff will be followed by a week of prayer and action for migrants and refugees in Catholic churches and parishes around the world from Oct. 7 to Oct. 14.
“Don’t be afraid of sharing the journey. Don’t be afraid of sharing hope,” Pope Francis said during his weekly General Audience in St. Peter’s Square on the day of the campaign kickoff.