By Katherine Long, Editor
Christ was born for all of us and no one is an outsider in God’s family, Bishop Robert J. Cunningham affirmed during a special Mass to mark the start of National Migration Week Jan. 7.
The U.S. Catholic Church has celebrated National Migration Week for nearly 50 years, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The weeklong observance “is an opportunity for the Church to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, including immigrants, refugees, children, and victims and survivors of human trafficking. The theme for National Migration Week 2017, ‘Many Journeys, One Family,’ draws attention to the fact that each of our families [has] a migration story, some recent and others in the distant past. Regardless of where we are and where we came from, we remain part of the human family and are called to live in solidarity with one another,” the conference explains at usccb.org.
This year’s observance also coincides with the the two-year “Share the Journey” campaign. Launched in September of last year by Pope Francis, the campaign aims to raise awareness about the plight of refugees and migrants worldwide. Led globally by the Caritas network, the campaign is sponsored in the U.S. by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Relief Services, and Catholic Charities USA.
Speaking before a congregation that included members of refugee and immigrant communities, Bishop Cunningham offered a homily reflecting on the day’s readings for the Feast of the Epiphany and focusing on the Gospel call to welcome the stranger.
Matthew’s Gospel “highlights the stranger, the outsider, and the person on the fringes who is often ignored and from whom not much is expected. The magi were outsiders, strangers to the Jewish faith, unfamiliar with its tradition. Yet, it is they who diligently search for the newborn king and, upon finding Him, ‘prostrate themselves and offer him homage,’” he said.
“In his message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Francis speaks about the wisdom of faith that ‘fosters a contemplative gaze that recognizes that all of us “belong to one family, migrants and the local populations that welcome them,”’” he continued. “Paul tells us in the second reading that these outsiders to the Jewish faith — the Gentiles — are ‘coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.’ Christ was born for all of us! No one is an outsider in God’s family.”
“We might ask ourselves how we welcome the poor, the marginalized, the refugee, the immigrant. How do we welcome the outsiders in our midst? Do we see them as human beings, made in God’s image and likeness? What efforts do we make to include them in our communities and in our parishes? When we turn a contemplative gaze to migrants and refugees, ‘we discover that they do not arrive empty-handed. They bring their courage, their skills, their energy and aspirations, as well as the treasures of their own cultures; and in this way, they enrich the lives of the nations that receive them’” Bishop Cunningham said, drawing from Pope Francis’ message.
Jay Lee, a parishioner of Our Lady of Hope in Syracuse, proclaimed the second reading. A native of Korea, Lee came to the U.S. in 1979 to study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Following his studies, Lee moved to Syracuse to teach at Syracuse University; he is currently a professor of electrical engineering and computer science. Along with his wife, Young, Lee is active in coordinating ministry to the Korean Catholic Community of Syracuse. Including both students and residents, the community attends Mass together, gathers for fellowship, and regularly welcomes a visiting priest who celebrates Mass in Korean.
Lee said he was very proud of the Syracuse community. “They have a great record of welcoming immigrants and refugees and migrants, and I’m so proud of being part of the Syracuse community,” he said. The Mass, he said, was “one example of how welcoming Syracuse is.”
With a long history as a community of immigrants, Syracuse has become home for many refugee families as well. Catholic Charities of Onondaga County has resettled refugees in the area for more than 40 years; the agency typically settles 600 to 750 refugees a year, according to Catholic Sun archives. In Syracuse, refugees from Ukraine, Bosnia, Kosovo, Liberia, Burundi, Somalia, Sudan, Burma, Bhutan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and many other countries have found a home, according to Felicia Castricone, Program Director of Refugee Resettlement Services for the agency; over half of these refugees have been children.
“This year has been difficult for refugees,” Castricone wrote in a recent column for the Catholic Sun. “There is a special concern that welcoming strangers might be dangerous. Some believe that we need to protect the nation from refugees because they have ties to nations where there are terrorists. It is important to keep in mind that they do have ties to these nations, but that they fled these nations, their homelands, because of the terrorists. They are the victims of the terrorists, the ones whose family members were killed by terrorists, and whose lives were shattered by terrorism and extremism. When they come here, they are seeking peace and holding onto hope, and they are grateful that their children will not have to face violence, terror, and war. There is a line from the movie ‘Speechless’ which always inspires me: ‘Hate is easy, but love takes courage.’ In this time when it is just a little scary to welcome refugees to our country, choose the path of love, show courage, and welcome the stranger.”
Bishop Cunningham ended his homily with similar words from Pope Francis: “May the Church be the place of God’s mercy and hope, where all feel welcomed, loved, forgiven, and encouraged to live according to the good of the Gospel. And to make others feel welcomed, loved, forgiven, and encouraged, the Church must be with doors wide open so that all may enter. And we must go out through these doors and proclaim the Gospel.”
To read the full text of Bishop Cunningham’s homily, click here. To learn more about National Migration Week, visit usccb.org. To learn more about the Share the Journey Campaign, visit sharejourney.org. To learn more about Catholic Charities of Onondaga County’s refugee resettlement program, visit ccoc.us.