Racial Justice Sunday is celebrated by the Churches in Britain and Ireland on the second Sunday in September each year. On Sunday 12 September 2010, Christians across the four nations will celebrate Racial Justice Sunday with focus on the theme of “Migration’ Building Bridges or Barriers?” On this Racial Justice Sunday we are challenged to examine the question ‘who is my neighbour’ in the light of the theme of Migration.
The phenomenon of migration has always been part of human history. The International Organisation for Migration defines migration as ‘the movement of people either across an international border or within a State. It is a population movement, encompassing any kind of movement of people, whatever its length, composition and causes; it includes the migration of refugees, displaced persons, uprooted people and economic migrants’
The Church recognises that migration of people, both voluntary and involuntary “has turned into a structural reality of contemporary society” (Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi). It is a global phenomenon, touching all regions, crossing all ecclesiastical and national boundaries and affects millions of human beings.
In Britain over the last few years, there has been a transformation of the social character of the dioceses in England and Wales. We sometimes call it “the Changing Face of Britain”. Across the country in all our dioceses but especially in our large cities, we have migrants from many parts of the world adding vibrancy to our parishes. In the ‘Mission of the Church to Migrants’ the Bishops of England and Wales have considered this new social reality and have called for a more visible culture of welcome, hospitality and solidarity with migrants.
Racial Justice Sunday gives us the opportunity to recognise the suffering migrants have experienced through misunderstanding, exploitation, insecurity, uncertainty, injustice and poverty but also to celebrate the rich cultural and spiritual patrimony of migrants and to give visibility to the ways they are enriching us in our parishes and dioceses. It is an opportunity not to be indifferent to those around us, ‘who unsettle us and do not look or speak like us’ but to identify them as our neighbours and to reach out to the people we do not know, to migrants, to refugees and people seeking sanctuary who share the pews in our parishes. The Church calls us to be open minded and welcoming to migrants and refugees, to listen to their stories to celebrate the values they bring to our communities and to stand in solidarity with them.
In the materials developed for parishes by the Catholic Association for Racial Justice and the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland for Racial Justice Sunday the suggested homilies remind us ‘that all human beings long to find space to tell their story’. This year we are called to listen to the stories of migrants. We are invited to appreciate that ‘the prodigal son is a beautiful parable about the mercy of God, but it’s also a parable about the suffering that immigrants and strangers experience in their everyday lives.
This Sunday we are encouraged to open our hearts to those suffering around us, to build bridges with those who seem different to us and to remove the barriers that separate us from truly being the family of God.
Bishop Patrick Lynch, chair of the Office for Migration Policy at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales