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“It is not just about migrants”
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Faith assures us that in a mysterious way the Kingdom of God is already present here on earth (cf. Gaudium et spes, 39). Yet in our own time, we are saddened to see the obstacles and opposition it encounters. Violent conflicts and all-out wars continue to tear humanity apart; injustices and discrimination follow one upon the other; economic and social imbalances on a local or global scale prove difficult to overcome. And above all it is the poorest of the poor and the most disadvantaged who pay the price.
The most economically advanced societies are witnessing a growing trend towards extreme individualism which, combined with a utilitarian mentality and reinforced by the media, is producing a “globalization of indifference”. In this scenario, migrants, refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking have become emblems of exclusion. In addition to the hardships that their condition entails, they are often looked down upon and considered the source of all society’s ills. That attitude is an alarm bell warning of the moral decline we will face if we continue to give ground to the throw-away culture. In fact, if it continues, anyone who does not fall within the accepted norms of physical, mental and social well-being is at risk of marginalization and exclusion.
For this reason, the presence of migrants and refugees – and of vulnerable people in general – is an invitation to recover some of those essential dimensions of our Christian existence and our humanity that risk being overlooked in a prosperous society. That is why it is not just about migrants. When we show concern for them, we also show concern for ourselves, for everyone; in taking care of them, we all grow; in listening to them, we also give voice to a part of ourselves that we may keep hidden because it is not well regarded nowadays.
“Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!” (Mt 14:27). It is not just about migrants: it is also about our fears. The signs of meanness we see around us heighten “our fear of ‘the other’, the unknown, the marginalized, the foreigner... We see this today in particular, faced with the arrival of migrants and refugees knocking on our door in search of protection, security and a better future. To some extent, the fear is legitimate, also because the preparation for this encounter is lacking” (Homily in Sacrofano, 15 February 2019). But the problem is not that we have doubts and fears. The problem is when they condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even – without realizing it – racist. In this way, fear deprives us of the desire and the ability to encounter the other, the person different from myself; it deprives me of an opportunity to encounter the Lord (cf. Homily at Mass for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 14 January 2018).
“For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?” (Mt 5:46). It is not just about migrants: it is about charity. Through works of charity, we demonstrate our faith (cf. Jas 2:18). And the highest form of charity is that shown to those unable to reciprocate and perhaps even to thank us in return. “It is also about the face we want to give to our society and about the value of each human life... The progress of our peoples... depends above all on our openness to being touched and moved by those who knock at our door. Their faces shatter and debunk all those false idols that can take over and enslave our lives; idols that promise an illusory and momentary happiness blind to the lives and sufferings of others” (Address at the Diocesan Caritas of Rabat, 30 March 2019).
“But a Samaritan traveller who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight” (Lk 10:33). It is not just about migrants: it is about our humanity. Compassion motivated that Samaritan – for the Jews, a foreigner – not to pass by. Compassion is a feeling that cannot be explained on a purely rational level. Compassion strikes the most sensitive chords of our humanity, releasing a vibrant urge to “be a neighbour” to all those whom we see in difficulty. As Jesus himself teaches us (cf. Mt 9:35-36; 14:13-14; 15:32-37), being compassionate means recognizing the suffering of the other and taking immediate action to soothe, heal and save. To be compassionate means to make room for that tenderness which today’s society so often asks us to repress. “Opening ourselves to others does not lead to impoverishment, but rather enrichment, because it enables us to be more human: to recognize ourselves as participants in a greater collectivity and to understand our life as a gift for others; to see as the goal, not our own interests, but rather the good of humanity” (Address at the Heydar Aliyev Mosque in Baku, 2 October 2016).
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father” (Mt 18:10). It is not just about migrants: it is a question of seeing that no one is excluded. Today’s world is increasingly becoming more elitist and cruel towards the excluded. Developing countries continue to be drained of their best natural and human resources for the benefit of a few privileged markets. Wars only affect some regions of the world, yet weapons of war are produced and sold in other regions which are then unwilling to take in the refugees produced by these conflicts. Those who pay the price are always the little ones, the poor, the most vulnerable, who are prevented from sitting at the table and are left with the “crumbs” of the banquet (cf. Lk 16:19-21). “The Church which ‘goes forth’... can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast” (Evangelii Gaudium, 24). A development that excludes makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. A real development, on the other hand, seeks to include all the world’s men and women, to promote their integral growth, and to show concern for coming generations.
“Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all” (Mk 10:43-44). It is not just about migrants: it is about putting the last in first place. Jesus Christ asks us not to yield to the logic of the world, which justifies injustice to others for my own gain or that of my group. “Me first, and then the others!” Instead, the true motto of the Christian is, “The last shall be first!” “An individualistic spirit is fertile soil for the growth of that kind of indifference towards our neighbours which leads to viewing them in purely economic terms, to a lack of concern for their humanity, and ultimately to feelings of fear and cynicism. Are these not the attitudes we often adopt towards the poor, the marginalized and the ‘least’ of society? And how many of these ‘least’ do we have in our societies! Among them I think primarily of migrants, with their burden of hardship and suffering, as they seek daily, often in desperation, a place to live in peace and dignity” (Address to the Diplomatic Corps, 11 January 2016). In the logic of the Gospel, the last come first, and we must put ourselves at their service.
“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). It is not just about migrants: it is about the whole person, about all people. In Jesus’ words, we encounter the very heart of his mission: to see that all receive the gift of life in its fullness, according to the will of the Father. In every political activity, in every programme, in every pastoral action we must always put the person at the centre, in his or her many aspects, including the spiritual dimension. And this applies to all people, whose fundamental equality must be recognized. Consequently, “development cannot be restricted to economic growth alone. To be authentic, it must be well-rounded; it must foster the development of each man and of the whole man” (SAINT PAUL VI, Populorum Progressio, 14).
“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). It is not just about migrants: it is about building the city of God and man. In our time, which can also be called the era of migration, many innocent people fall victim to the “great deception” of limitless technological and consumerist development (cf. Laudato Si’, 34). As a result, they undertake a journey towards a “paradise” that inevitably betrays their expectations. Their presence, at times uncomfortable, helps to debunk the myth of a progress that benefits a few while built on the exploitation of many. “We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved. They are an occasion that Providence gives us to help build a more just society, a more perfect democracy, a more united country, a more fraternal world and a more open and evangelical Christian community” (Message for the 2014 World Day of Migrants and Refugees).
Dear brothers and sisters, our response to the challenges posed by contemporary migration can be summed up in four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate. Yet these verbs do not apply only to migrants and refugees. They describe the Church’s mission to all those living in the existential peripheries, who need to be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated. If we put those four verbs into practice, we will help build the city of God and man. We will promote the integral human development of all people. We will also help the world community to come closer to the goals of sustainable development that it has set for itself and that, lacking such an approach, will prove difficult to achieve.
In a word, it is not only the cause of migrants that is at stake; it is not just about them, but about all of us, and about the present and future of the human family. Migrants, especially those who are most vulnerable, help us to read the “signs of the times”. Through them, the Lord is calling us to conversion, to be set free from exclusivity, indifference and the throw-away culture. Through them, the Lord invites us to embrace fully our Christian life and to contribute, each according to his or her proper vocation, to the building up of a world that is more and more in accord with God’s plan.
In expressing this prayerful hope, and through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Way, I invoke God’s abundant blessings upon all the world’s migrants and refugees and upon all those who accompany them on their journey.
From the Vatican, 30 April 2019
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ROME — The worldwide issue of human trafficking brought together 86 women religious serving as delegates from 48 countries, united in mission as well as in their little black headphones that translated between English, Spanish and French.
The first International General Assembly of Talitha Kum, a global network of networks, is a celebration of its 10 years fighting trafficking around the world.
The International Union of Superiors General (UISG) is hosting the Sept. 21-27 gathering in Rome. Those representing their countries' anti-trafficking networks will participate in evaluations, presentations, reflections and roundtable discussions to discern what their future commitments against trafficking will entail while strengthening the collaborative links between networks.
More than 2,000 women religious are members of Talitha Kum, with 43 national networks doing work in 77 countries.
"Our network is much more than a space of coordination. We are a group in which we support each other and nurture," said Comboni Missionary Sr. Gabriella Bottani, Talitha Kum's international coordinator, in her opening remarks Sept. 21. She noted that the network accompanied 15,500 trafficked persons in 2018.
And while this gathering serves as a touchpoint for the many networks around the globe, as well as an opportunity to reassess priorities and organize for the future, it is largely a celebration of the work accomplished in the previous 10 years.
"This is a week that mixes everything, the organizing and the celebrating — celebrating the victories of the many people we have been able to help," said Sr. Ilse Cedeño, a Sister of the Divine Will from Colombia.
"It's an opportunity to weave bridges of solidarity and unite our forces, sharing our experiences and our wisdom while learning what our fellow religious are doing throughout the world that might work for me in my country and my network," she said. "We all have our challenges, but we are here to strengthen one another.”
Crossing borders increases vulnerability
Exacerbating the issue today is the link between migration and trafficking, as displaced persons and migrants are easy targets for traffickers. Whether out of Venezuela or Sudan, refugees and migrants on the move have required sisters from bordering countries to increase their network's efforts and collaborate across borders.
When Congregation of Jesus Sr. Adina Balan first got involved in anti-trafficking work 10 years ago in Romania — where the majority of trafficking happens to its people when they go abroad, she said — poverty was the chief driver of migration.
"Now, it's more for ideological reasons," she told GSR. "People don't identify so much with the politics anymore ... and they prefer to go to countries where democracy is stable."
Mihaela was 19 when she finished high school in Romania and decided to move to Germany to work for a few months while she studied political science. She'd work for and live with a "serious family — at least that's what my friend Amalia called them," Mihaela said in a written testimony for Talitha Kum.
"When I arrived at that house, I noticed almost immediately that something was wrong: There were no toys, yet Amalia had said that the family had three children. As soon as she left, three men entered the house, beat me, assaulted me, and then took me to a brothel where I was forced into prostitution every day, from 7 P.M. to 5 A.M. Sometimes I had as many as 15 customers a day."
According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, almost 80% of trafficking is sexual exploitation. (Children are about 20% of victims worldwide, though they constitute a large majority in certain parts of the world.)
Today, seven years later, Mihaela's traffickers are in prison, and Mihaela said she has to thank the sisters of Talitha Kum, as well as other nongovernmental organizations, for taking care of her. And while her "wounds are not completely healed, today I have a new life," she said. She is in law school to help other girls escape trafficking and bring justice to their traffickers.
Like in Mihaela's case, anti-trafficking efforts often involve a number of entities approaching the issue from various angles. Balan said sisters in Romania (as with other countries) work with police to identify victims and prosecutors to handle the legal aspects, while other nongovernmental organizations provide health services, accommodations and psychological counseling. Sisters, meanwhile, handle direct services, such as accompaniment of survivors.
"I can't say that one is bigger than the other because we all depend on each other for the work that we do," she said.
French Sr. Marie Héléne Halligon of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd said her advocacy work in Europe largely relates to lobbying with 25 partner associations who share the mission. Halligon represents RENATE (Europe Networking Against Trafficking and Exploitation, the European faction of Talitha Kum) on the European Council. Currently, they are lobbying the European Union to prioritize renewing its plan of action against trafficking.
"Right now, we are working with the group of experts that looks at each [European] state regarding trafficking: They go to every state and ask the government questions, but we, along with the NGOs, tell them about our experience on the ground, and [how it possibly contradicts] what the government reports," she said, noting that the experts' final reports reflects all angles.
"It's the voice on the ground that we bring."
Talitha Kum sisters to meet with Pope Francis this week
On Sept. 26, the Talitha Kum sisters will have a private audience with Pope Francis, who has said that "the work of raising awareness must begin at home, with ourselves, because only in this way will we be able to then make our communities aware, motivating them to commit themselves so that no human being may ever again be a victim of trafficking."
Such is the nature of Talitha Kum's work: international connections with a focus on the local, providing resources to its networks on the ground but with organizing efforts on a macro level.
"It was probably one of the most exciting moments, when Pope Francis was elected and immediately spoke about his absolute commitment to the work against human trafficking and this mission," said Sr. Imelda Poole of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto Sisters), who has been doing anti-trafficking work in Albania for 14 years.
"It's the first time in our experience that a pope has declared this. Since then, he's been constantly working against human trafficking, and now the church has the aim — with Pope Francis — to eliminate human trafficking by 2030. And we are in union with Pope Francis in that aim."
The conversation at lunch between two sisters on the gathering's opening day demonstrated the surprising extent to which seemingly unrelated countries might overlap — in this case, New Zealand and Colombia.
Marist Sr. Gemma Wilson came from New Zealand, a wealthy country where prostitution is legal but where Pacific Island migrants are exploited for their labor. During the lunch recess, she spoke with Cedeño from Colombia, whose country is absorbing vulnerable Venezuelan migrants while also dealing with an ongoing armed conflict between the government and guerrillas, as well as a general lack of access to education or work — all of which are contributing factors to trafficking.
Though separated by an ocean, economic realities and a language, the Kiwi and Colombian sisters were eager to learn from one another.
In New Zealand, Wilson said, recent investigations by the Immigration Department have discovered that 5% of women in brothels have had their passports taken away, and childhood prostitution among those who have run away from home, tempted by the money that gangs offer them, is also a problem. Still, cheap labor is the main issue, and the same department is increasing its efforts to investigate companies.
"It's a good country we live in, but even so, this is going on," she said.
"For me, this week is a way of strengthening our bonds, connecting between countries like New Zealand with other countries that have these open problems," Wilson said. "Meeting people like Ilse or others from Africa and Asia and getting to know what's going on in countries much less well off than we are ... I believe very much in the force of women when they get together."
by Soli Salgado for Global Sisters Report
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