By Robin Gomes
The Catholic bishops of New Zealand are holding their annual Day of Prayer for Refugees and Migrants on June 21, on a theme inspired by Pope Francis.
Don't look the other way
The theme of this day is “Where is your brother or sister?”, taken from the 2013 Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel). The Pope says he has “always been distressed at the lot of those who are victims of various kinds of human trafficking”.
The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC) observes the Day of Prayer for Refugees and Migrants each year on a Sunday closest to World Refugee Day, which this yeare falls on June 20. Caritas New Zealand prepares resources for this day on behalf of the NZCBC.
In Evangelii Gaudium, the Pope quotes the book of Genesis and challenges us not to look the other way but to recognize our migrant brothers and sisters who are experiencing exploitation. Migrants and refugees are part of our community, but they may not always be seen or heard.
Migrants, refugees missed out
In the context of New Zealand, Catholic communities are invited to reflect on the post-Covid-19 economic hardships, job losses and human exploitation to which migrant communities are most vulnerable.
With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the economy worldwide, in New Zealand, the government has been quick to offer emergency benefits to New Zealanders, the bishops note. “However,” they continue, “one big chunk of the workforce who are missing out are migrant workers.”
They point out that even before the pandemic, migrant worker exploitation had been a serious problem that even the New Zealand Government has acknowledged by holding a review.
Pope reaches out
The New Zealand bishops particularly recall Pope Francis' concern and concrete support of migrants and refugees, when he established the Migrants and Refugees Section within the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. The Section is tasked with addressing human trafficking as well as matters regarding migrants and refugees.
Pope Francis acknowledges that the task of overcoming human exploitation takes “courage, patience and perseverance”, but it is a task that we all must take part in. He challenges us “to open our eyes, to see the misery of those who are completely deprived of their dignity and their freedom, and to hear their cry for help.”