“There have been many changes in Irish society but our duty to love our neighbour no matter where he or she is from is unchanged and, thankfully, unchangeable” – Bishop John McAreavey
For 2017, and in terms of our support for migrants and refugees, Pope Francis is expressly asking all of us to particularly “take care of the young, who in a threefold way are defenceless: they are children, they are foreigners, and they have no means to protect themselves.” Every community that can, should heed this call, and should do so now.
Unlike any time in our history, our collective duty of care towards migrants and refugees includes Irish society in a very significant way. This is true notwithstanding the enormous change that has taken place here over the past three decades, and the tempo of this change seems to be increasing rather than slowing. This change can be, at times, overwhelming and disorientating. It can sometimes leave us yearning for the so called ‘good old days’, when we felt things were slower, familiar and usually more predictable.
While Irish society has changed, it is still important to distinguish between types of change in our lives: between progress for the better and change for the worse. The prevailing global economic model has meant that the production of goods can, almost instantaneously, move from a low wage economy to a lower wage economy as transnational corporations are no longer tied or committed to a specific location or country. Even when goods are produced in a developing country it is often the case that the bulk of profits will be reaped and spent in one of the world’s richest economies.
In the context of today, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the question arises: what then can we Christians do to show solidarity with our new neighbours? I believe we can start by reminding ourselves that our new neighbours are like ourselves; they want decent work and a secure home for their family. They miss their countries of origin; no matter what its problems are, home is always home, as we Irish know better than anyone. Perhaps the most simple thing we can do is to say ‘hello’ and continue to offer a welcome to the people on our street, in our schools and in our workplaces.
I pray today, Lord, for myself, and fellow exiles,
Those who love their homes
But are forced to live in strange surroundings,
With people we do not know;
Who speak a language we do not understand.
I pray for all those who have been deprived of;
Their right to live in their own territories;
Those who are forcibly ejected,
Discriminated against, persecuted and expelled.
Those who dream of a promised land.
but are now camping in shanty towns.
I pray that we may feel exiles no longer.
That we make ourselves at home
Wherever we are,
In the warmth of our hope
And the strength of our faith.
‘Only this, to do what is right,
To love loyalty and to walk humbly with your God.’