Irish Church hosts migrant conference
The Churches in Ireland have a special role in welcoming migrants.
This was the message delivered by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin as he delivered the keynote address opening a conference on migration hosted in Dublin on February 19.
‘Journey Together: Challenges facing the migrant today’ drew together delegates and stakeholders in the area of migration to hear from a variety of experts and to engage in lively workshops on issues such as human trafficking, undocumented migrants and prisoners, both Irish overseas and migrants prisoners in the Irish penal system.
Delegates heard Archbishop Martin stress that the Church’s role in this wide-ranging topic “must be guided by that Caritas Christi which is in the title of the document of the Pontifical Council for Migration and Tourism”.
“Reflecting the charity of Christ means that we build a global culture marked by a genuine and caring encounter with the other,” he added.
Detailing the initiatives undertaken within the Catholic Church in Dublin, such as the annual Festival of Peoples, Dr Martin reminded delegates that “migrants represent an injection of fervour and renewal in our Churches. We learn from each other and we enrich one another.”
Active in the area of migration policy, Stefan Kessler of the Jesuit Refugee Service’s Brussels office also addressed the conference, offering the harrowing account of Hadiyah, an Iraqi refugee who was forced to flee her country following threats to her life and the murders of her two teenage sons. Her story is one of special relevance to Ireland, as Hadiyah ultimately sought asylum here, and faced the trauma of arrest and separation from her family due to her own undocumented status.
“Such cases are reported not only from Ireland but from many other European Union Member States as well,” Mr Kessler said. “You could get the impression that there is a race for stinginess among Member States, a contest on who is treating protection-seekers worst.” He went on to outline necessary protections, including alternatives to detention and with access to social rights, as key in Europe’s humane response to situations such as Hadiyah’s.
The day’s events were given an added dimension as Cecilia Taylor-Camara, who is senior policy advisor for the Office of Migration with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales took to the podium to present on that conference’s response to migration, a distinct reality across all dioceses in Britain. Revealing to delegates that she had become an involuntary migrant during the conflict in Sierra Leone in 1997, Mrs Taylor-Camara related her own distressing story of attempting to keep her family together as they fled to Britain.
Most pertinent for delegates was the Taylor-Camaras’ experience (as Catholics) when they sought a church in England to regain their sense of community, discovering that the local Baptist church was far more ‘in tune’ with welcoming migrant members. Of her first Catholic Mass she recalled: “At the end of Mass nobody spoke to us. We felt like strangers, alone and unwelcome. There was nothing in place to make us feel at home.”
From such a beginning, however, Mrs Taylor-Camara reported to the conference that the Church in England and Wales is now actively engaged in reaching out to migrants and responding to their needs.
Quoting from the bishops’ document, Mission of the Church to Migrants in England and Wales, Mrs Taylor-Camara said: “Over the last few years, there has been a transformation of the social character of the dioceses in England and Wales. We recognise and celebrate their rich cultural and spiritual patrimony and the ways in which [migrants] are enriching us as they join us in our parishes and dioceses.”
Having gained from the presentations and, in the words of Bishop John Kirby, chair of the Irish Episcopal Council for Emigrants, “the migrant perspective”, the delegates, during feedback, urged the Churches in Ireland to do more to promote Anti-Trafficking Day ahead of the event this October 18.