In the library of the Bishop’s Home in Ogdensburg, there was a small statue depicting Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child on their flight into Egypt. As I thought about National Migration Week observed January 2 – 8, I was reminded of that statue. How difficult it must have been for the young Holy Family to start a journey and not know their exact destination or how they would survive when they got there. Although they were not the first immigrants or refugees, they remind us that many people must leave their homelands in search of peace, employment and a better life for their children.
Mary, Joseph and the new born Child went as refugees to a strange land in order to escape persecution. They are like so many families in our world today, including many in our diocese, who in order to escape war and violence, religious bigotry and ethnic hostility, famine and lack of employment, are forced to leave all that is familiar to them and move to an unknown land with an uncertain future.
“Renewing Hope, Seeking Justice” was the primary theme for the 2011 National Migration Week. This observance was initiated over a quarter century ago by the bishops of the U.S. to provide Catholics an opportunity to take stock of the wide diversity in the Church and the ministries which serve this diversity. The bishops hope to create a world where immigrants, refugees, migrants, trafficked persons, and people on the move are treated with dignity, respect, welcome and a spirit of belonging.
Who is today’s immigrant? Who seeks refuge in the U.S.? Are we ready to welcome the stranger in our midst? The Church in our country has always been an immigrant Church, a Church built up and enriched by many nationalities and diverse ethnic backgrounds. Today, however, a number of immigrants come not from Europe, as so many of our ancestors did, but rather from Asia and Africa as well as from Latin America and Mexico.
Data available from New York State tells us that between Oct. 1, 2007 and Sept. 30, 2008, a total of 3,630 refugees resettled in the Empire State. Eighty-seven percent of these refugees or 3,173 live in upstate New York. The majority of these refugees came from four different regions. Asia is represented by Burma and Bhutan and account for 66% of the new arrivals. About 3% came from the Ukraine. African countries (Burundi, Somalia, Liberia) account for 9%. Approximately 11% came from Iraq and Afghanistan. The remaining 11% originated from other areas of the world.
A significant number of refugees located within the Diocese of Syracuse have come from Burma (Myanmar). Upstate counties have received refugees from Bhutan for the first time. Our diocesan Catholic Charities has offered assistance as people have relocated in our area.
Migrant farm workers and their families also deserve our attention and concern. These farm workers and their families live and work in all 50 states. Many of these workers are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. They are primarily of Mexican origin but some are from Jamaica, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and other countries. Between one and three million farm workers leave their homes each year to plant, cultivate, harvest and pack fruits, vegetables and nuts. Other migrant farm workers are employed in the fishing, meatpacking and dairy industries.
Did you know that about 81% of our nation’s farm workers are foreign-born? Many of them are from Mexico continuing a long tradition of people harvesting crops in the Southwest. Five out of six farm workers are native Spanish speaking; 12% of all farm workers earn less than the minimum wage.
Each year approximately 47,000 migrant farm workers and their family members come to New York State. They live in almost every county of the state, pruning and harvesting in vineyards and orchards as well as cultivating and harvesting a vast array of vegetables, where hand labor is necessary for the production of the blemish free produce that consumers demand. Many migrant workers live on dairy farms working 60 to 70 hours a week and despite their hard work remain in poverty. Agriculture remains the number one industry in New York State and the majority of the work on farms is provided by migrant farm workers. Without them our agricultural industry could not survive.
Today’s immigrant deserves our reverence and respect. Many of them are responsible for the food we eat. Many others are employed in the service industry. They want for their families what we all want — a chance for a better life, education for their children, a decent home and adequate health care.
National Migration Week offered us an opportunity to reflect upon the contributions of migrants and refugees to our society, to welcome them into our midst and to offer them hope for a better and more just future in the land that holds out that basic concept for all. Renewing Hope, Seeking Justice is what we are about. I am sure that as Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child began their journey to Egypt, they were looking for the same.
Please join me in praying for all those who come to our country full of hope that they will find the justice and peace for which they long.
Blessed are You, Lord God,
King of all creation.
Through Your goodness, we live in this land that You have so richly blessed.
Help us always to recognize our blessings come from You
and remind us to share them with others,
especially those who come to us today from other lands.
Help us to be generous, just and
welcoming, as You have been and are generous to us.
May hope and justice be your companions during this New Year.
— Bishop Robert Cunningham
I continue to remember all of you in prayer. If you have a particular intention that you wish me to remember, please send it to me at P.O. Box 511, Syracuse, N.Y. 13201.