Creating a Culture of Encounter

A girl holds her sister near a makeshift shelter at a camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Sana'a, Yemen. (CNS photo/Yahya Arhab EPA)

A girl holds her sister near a makeshift shelter at a camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Sana’a, Yemen. (CNS photo/Yahya Arhab EPA)

National Migration Week is observed this year from January 8-14, with the theme of “Creating a Culture of Encounter.” This time “is an opportunity for the Church to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants,” states the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in promoting this initiative, adding, “too often in our contemporary culture we fail to encounter them as persons, and instead look at them as others. We do not take the time to engage migrants in a meaningful way, but remain aloof to their presence and suspicious of their intentions.”

Migration is certainly one of the most difficult issues facing our nation today. Socially and politically, we are struggling to find the balance between our history as a country of immigrants with the reality of so many people who are leaving their homeland because of war or violence, or poverty in search of a better life. These types of migration are parts of the larger experience which includes the movement of refugees, victims and survivors of human trafficking and migrant workers.

The plight of migrants and the response of local communities and the nations is something that the Catholic Church is concerned about because it involves people and our efforts toward the common good – in this case, the fundamental right to pursue liberty and justice. In the face of this kind of challenge, the principles of Catholic Social Teaching can help inform people’s thinking and shed light on what is best concerning the mass movement of peoples.

As Christians, we begin by examining scripture to see what the Lord teaches. Jesus says we should welcome the stranger with compassion, kindness, understanding, peace and love – just as he did in his own time. While the sheer numbers of migrants on the move around the globe, with some finding their way to our own community, may seem to be overwhelming, as Christians it is vital that we see the humanity in the faces of immigrants that stand behind the statistics and policy responses.

Our Archdiocesan Synod urged that “the needs and rights of immigrants and refugees be advocated for at the local, state and federal levels, and that Catholics be educated about the needs and rights of immigrants so that they may be advocated for” (Service Recommendation 8). In observance of National Migration Week, through a program designed by the archdiocesan Office of Cultural Diversity and Outreach, we will gather for prayer and advocacy in a series of public events, including an interreligious prayer service show of solidarity, which demonstrate our shared commitment to accompanying our migrant and refugee sisters and brothers living in our communities. To learn more, please visit