Sunday 17th January 2010 marks the 96th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. This day is dedicated to raising awareness of the contribution that migrants make to the Church and to wider society and to highlight the issues of particular interest to migrants.
The theme for this year “Minor Migrants and Refugees” focuses on the need of the most vulnerable category of migrants and refugees, the minors (underage migrants and refugees).
His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI in his annual message to mark the day draws on our Lord’s experience stating that “As a child, Jesus himself experienced migration… in order to flee the threats of Herod, he had to seek refuge in Egypt together with Joseph and Mary (Mt 2:14).” By comparison in our modern world this is not an uncommon experience of the increasing numbers of migrants families and minor migrants and refugees “who for various reasons are fleeing their own country, where they are not given protection”. These people, the Pontiff states, have “fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected by everyone and in every circumstance”.
Pope Benedict acknowledges the legal provisions in place and the increasing awareness of the need for the protection of children but laments the effectiveness in the application of these provisions and focuses on their plight as “many are left to themselves and, in various ways, face the risk of exploitation”. Recognising the social, cultural, economic challenges in the formative years of the development of young people, the Pope urges that proper attention should be given to young people living in a foreign land especially those who do not have the family support they would have in their countries of origin.
While expressing his gratitude and appreciation for the work they do with and on behalf of migrants Pope Benedict, in a special appeal to the faithful, urges parishes and Catholic associations which “imbued with a spirit of faith and charity, take pains to meet the needs of these brothers and sisters”. The Pope invites “all Christians to become aware of the social and pastoral challenges posed by migrant and refugee minors”.
Bishop for Migrants
Echoing the need to focus on underage migrants and refugees, Bishop Patrick Lynch, Chair of the Office of Migration and Refugee Policy of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said that “care for migrant families especially women with children in detention was both a pastoral and policy challenge”. He said that raising the plight of families in detention especially women with children by disseminating information on their human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as providing pastoral support was one way of trying to ensure their protection.
Bishop Lynch said: “At the heart of Catholic Social Teaching is the principle that every human being is created in the image of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ and is therefore invaluable and worthy of respect as a member of the human family. This fundamental principle shapes our ministry with migrants – forced or unforced, documented or undocumented. A migrant’s legal status is quite separate from his or her human dignity. A human being’s worth is defined and determined by their God-given dignity not by the papers they do or do not carry”. Bishop Lynch said that every effort should be made to end child detention while their families await decisions on their claim for sanctuary in the UK.
Link to the Holy Father’s full message.