100th International Day of the Migrant and the Refugee Celebrated in Jaffa

On January 19, 2014, the Catholic Church celebrated the 100th International Day of the Migrant and the Refugee at Saint Anthony of Jaffa Church. The Custody of the Holy Land and the Latin Patriarchate marked the event together with the Eucharist and a time of fraternal celebration on Saturday, January 18th.

With Fathers Zaher Abboud OFM and David Neuhaus SJ presiding, the celebration brought together migrant workers and refugees from South America, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, Eritrea, Nigeria, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as Poles, Russians, Romanians, and the small community of Hebrew-speaking Catholics. Joining them were male and female religious, as well as people who are active in pastoral work and migrants rights. The church was full and very colorful, with everyone wearing festive clothes or the traditional garb of their country. Such a beautiful, young face of the Church was presented by this community of believers could not be seen elsewhere on this January morning.

All the communities participated in their own languages, in the songs, the liturgy, the Prayer of the Faithful and the Offertory. The announced theme of the day was “Migrants and Refugees: Toward a Better World”. Father David preached a homily in English, in which he recalled the three foundations of this day. First, to celebrate the joy of being different, a joy that should contrast with the attitude of a society that is often suspicious and hostile when faced with migrants. Next, prayer in support of those who suffer and to help us to see the face of Christ imprinted on each of them. Finally, to repeat our faith in a better world, not tomorrow but today – because God offers us his kingdom every day.

Taking up the Holy Father’s message for the International Day of the Migrant and Refugee, Father David repeated, “a change of attitude toward migrants and refugees is needed by everyone. Passing from an attitude of defensiveness or marginalization—which, after all, is a ‘culture of rejection’—to an attitude that has at base a ‘culture of encounter’ is the only thing that can build a world that is more just and fraternal, in a word… a better world.”

In 2013, the number of migrants internationally reached 232 million (according to UN figures), while the number of people displaced within their own country was over 45 million (figures from the UNHCR). These are record numbers that added together represent almost 4% of the world’s population. To give you an idea, in Israel there are presently between 50,000 and 60,000 Catholic migrants. The largest community is the Filipinos (estimated at some 35,000), who are de facto more numerous than Latin Catholic Arabs in the State of Israel (estimated at 28,000 – source: Latin Patriarchate).

The migrant apostolate is, therefore, a major challenge for the Church. Every Saturday the Franciscan parish in Jaffa has continuous services in over ten languages. There is no shortage of work and evangelization is demanded by these young communities at risk of falling victim to solitude or instability when faced with a new society and culture that rejects them. Let us pray that every society in the world can see acceptance of migrants and refugees as “an occasion that Providence gives us to contribute to a more just society, a more fraternal world, and a more open Christian community” – Pope Francis.

Emile Rey

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