Healing by helping: Welcoming refugees strengthens community, say speakers


VATICAN CITY — After celebrating the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Catholic organizations and movements, Vatican officials and government officials gathered at two conferences to explore very concrete ways to help migrants and refugees, integrate them into their new communities and challenge negative stereotypes.

But participants were fully aware of the uphill battle they face in sharing the successes of community sponsorship programs and educational initiatives.

The International Catholic Migration Commission and the Embassy of Canada to the Holy See partnered for a workshop at the Vatican on September 26-27 on community sponsorship, and the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Refugee Education Network and migrants sponsored a conference on September 26-27. 28 on the provision of education and training to migrants and refugees.

The conferences opened the day after Italian voters claimed victory for a coalition of centre-right parties and set the stage for Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, to become Premier minister. She has campaigned for a policy of tightening immigration policies and stepping up efforts to push back migrants and refugees trying to enter Italy by crossing the Mediterranean from Libya and other North African countries. .

The rallies at the Vatican and Gregorian University also came less than two weeks after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis flew asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, without prior warning to the local community. who received them.

Cardinal Michael Czerny, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, spoke at the conference at the Gregorian about the “scandal of hostility towards refugees and migrants” and how “it can arise anywhere, even in Catholic and academic communities around the world”. ”

“Is it simply ignorance of the conditions that lead to human displacement, or neglect of the contributions that newcomers make to host communities?” he asked, before urging universities to study and educate the public on “the root causes of contemporary forced migration” and the practical, spiritual and cultural benefits of welcoming migrants and refugees.

Andreas Hollstein, who was mayor of Altena, Germany, from 1999 to 2020 and ran community sponsorship programs there, told the conference at the Vatican: “You need good examples – pictures of a world best – to combat the narrative of the ultra -right-handers growing up in so many countries.

“Success stories are happening every day in every city” that welcomes migrants and refugees, “but we don’t publicize it,” he said. As an example, he said Altena has a former refugee who is now a police officer and another who became a famous songwriter.

Julieta Valls Noyes, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, noted that long before the adoption of international and national refugee conventions beginning in the 1950s, “we We had churches, synagogues, mosques and meetings where the faithful lived their faith by opening their arms and their hearts to the vulnerable.

To reach the Biden administration’s cap of 125,000 refugees to be resettled over the coming year, she said, community involvement and sponsorship will be important. His office was already working on pilot community sponsorship projects when the Afghan crisis began in August 2021 and again earlier this year when Russia’s war on Ukraine scarred millions of people.

The United States’ hosting of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees, she said, demonstrated enormous generosity and “remarkable acts of commitment from ordinary Americans from all walks of life,” both of whom will be essential for resettling those in need of safety, protection and a new homeland. .

William Canny, executive director of the U.S. Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, agreed that welcoming this number of refugees will require the support of parishes, synagogues and other community groups, but as representatives of other agencies Offering help, he said the verification process needs to be expedited and resources need to be allocated to help cover housing and healthcare costs that sponsors promise to cover.

All speakers agreed that community sponsorship programs benefit both refugees and host communities, accelerating integration and energizing local communities.

Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, general secretary of the International Catholic Migration Commission, said that in Europe, community sponsorship works especially well in small towns that are dying because young people are moving away. The new arrivals bring new energy, but also reopen businesses such as bakeries and grocery stores.

Scalabrinian Father Fabio Baggio, undersecretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said he has made several trips to Canada to study its well-developed community sponsorship program through which families, towns, parishes, synagogues, mosques, or other groups financially, emotionally, and practically year-long support for government-controlled refugee families.

Communities sponsoring refugees “are refreshed by exercising this cooperation and unity”, he said.

Jennifer Bond, president of the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative, a project of the Canadian government and the UN Refugee Agency, told the conference that community sponsorship projects are “an opportunity to heal our communities in a time great division” and “politicization” of migration.

The only way to extend positive impact to communities and refugees, she said, is to tell their stories.

“Be bold. Be big. Be ambitious,” Bond told governments and faith-based organizations in hopes of expanding the programs.


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