Why we should all heed call to ‘welcome the stranger’

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The Bishop of Dromore, John McAreavey, has welcomed Pope Francis’ 2017 message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees which was held on Sunday, January 15.

This is the 103rd papal message in support of migrants and refugees and this year’s theme addresses ‘child Migrants, the vulnerable and the voiceless’.

Bishop McAreavey, who is also chair of the Council for Justice and Peace of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said: “For 2017, and in terms of our support for migrants and refugees, Pope Francis is expressly asking all of us to particularly ‘take care of the young, who in a threefold way are defenceless: they are children, they are foreigners, and they have no means to protect themselves’.

“Every community that can should heed this call, and should do so now.

“Unlike any time in our history, our collective duty of care towards migrants and refugees includes Irish society in a very significant way.

“In the context of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the question arises, what then can we Christians do to show solidarity with our new neighbours?

“I believe we can start by reminding ourselves that our new neighbours are like ourselves - they want decent work and a secure home for their family. They miss their countries of origin, for no matter what its problems are, home is always home, as we Irish know better than anyone.

“Perhaps the most simple thing we can do is to say ‘hello’ and offer a welcome.”

Bishop McAreavey continued: “If people cannot earn enough to live a decent life in their own country then it is inevitable that many will attempt to move to places where the lowest paid job offers more hope than is possible in their own home.

“Our parishes have been welcoming as befitting the nature of a Christian community. I know many have put down roots and appreciate the fact that people are interested in them and value their work and contribution to life here.”

Bishop McAreavey, went on to say there can sadly be exceptions to this welcome.

“There have been racist attacks and incidents and no doubt we have all heard negative comments about one national group or another,” he continued.

“But our duty to welcome the stranger does not end there. While it may not always be possible for Christians in Ireland to directly impact the global movement of people, we can do something which will have an impact on the inequality and suffering that forces such movement.”

Bishop McAreavey then urged people to shop and purchase ethically sourced goods that benefit the people and countries that produce them and also to support politicians who are peacemakers.

Concluding, he said: “There have been many changes in Irish society but the duty to love our neighbour no matter where he or she is from is unchanged and, thankfully, unchangeable.”