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“I was a stranger and you welcomed me”

On Saturday January 17th the International Day of Migrants was celebrated at St. Anthony Parish in Jaffa. This celebration had a special flavour given the large number of Catholic migrants in Israel.

They arrived in small groups, wearing their best clothes and happy to celebrate this day agian. Lebanese from the north of Israel; Filipinos from Jerusalem; Sri Lankans, Eritreans, Indians or Africans from Tel Aviv, all were there.

The Mass was presided over by Father David Neuhaus (Patriarchal Vicar for Migrants) and concelebrated by many priests. The vicar of the parish Fr. Zaher Abboud ofm, Father Tojy Jose ofm, Father Dharma Pichai ofm, Father Medhin, Father Peter and Father Marco, were remarkably present.

The parish is home to numerous migrants, explained Father Zaher: “To better serve them in their daily and spiritual life the Custody turns to the Franciscan friars from their same culture. Thus, there are two Indian priests, a Filipino, Father Carlos (who was absent because he was in the Philippines for the trip of the Pope), an African priest … This allows us to understand and to better support the faithful in the difficulties they might encounter. “This diverse church, with multiple languages and cultures, manifested itself during the reading of the prayer intentions: Konkani, Tagalog, Tigrinya and Malayalam, without forgetting the Sinhalese, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew and English! Multiple cultures and languages gathered by the same faith in Jesus, saviour of mankind.

The Gospel of Matthew (25: 31-46) was particularly suitable, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you looked after me, in prison and you visited me.” God is present among the most fragile, and the Church does not forget them: Pope Francis was the same day in Tacloban, Philippines, with the survivors of the Typhoon Haiyan.

As outlined by Father David Neuhaus: “The purpose of this day is to celebrate the great richness brought by all these cultures to the Church and to cultivate at the same time, the awareness of our unit. We are in communion with the universal Church, with the families left behind, and with Pope Francis who is now travelling in Sri Lanka and the Philippines. »

He explained again: “Most of migrants in Israel are workers who left their families and countries for a slightly higher salary. There are also 50,000 refugees, who are not recognized as such and therefore have no rights, rather the Eritrean people. Finally there are also illegal people, but very few Catholics among them. »

In this way, Rosa testified: “I left India and my family to come here to work many years ago. I came alone, but God is always with me. I miss my husband and my children a lot; I go see them every 18 months approximately. My employers are very human, and the Indian community is tightly knit: we support each other. The pilgrimages we make to the holy places with the parish are rejuvenating”. But she says very moved, “I miss my family tremendously.”

The celebration, accompanied by choirs from different regions of the world, ended in a very festive atmosphere. A procession led by a Ge’ez group that danced and sang Christmas hymns with traditional instruments, moved towards the hall of the adjoining school. These Eastern Eritrean Catholics follow the Orthodox calendar that celebrates Christmas on January 6: thus, they were still rejoicing with the birth of Christ. The congregation applauded then the small shows performed by each group. Dances, songs, mime … the young Filipinos included mimed war, a plague that many of them have fled.

Hidrimariam, Eritrean of Ge’ez rite, refugee in Israel for avoiding persecution in Edans his country, said: “This day of migrants allows us to meet Israel’s other migrants, and show our traditions. This is a good opportunity! “.

This celebration allowed highlighting the beauty and dynamism of migrants. “We are refugees, our present and our future are precarious. But today we were very happy to be together in communion with refugees around the world, and in a moment of prayer and unity in the Church. If we share our suffering, it is also important to share our joys”, concludes Hidrimariam.

Hélène Morlet

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