Share the Journey campaign urges Catholics to connect with migrants

Danish Siddiqui | Reuters

WASHINGTON — A prayer here, a share on social media there, a voice of support in a letter to the editor, even a get-to-know-others potluck.

Supporting refugees and migrants can take many forms, and Pope Francis is hoping Catholics around the world will act over the next two years to encounter people on the move.

In the U.S., the Church's leading organizations have developed a series of activities, including prayers, that families, parishes, schools and individuals can undertake throughout the Share the Journey campaign the pope opened Sept. 27 at the Vatican.

Share the Journey is an initiative of Caritas Internationalis, the global network of Catholic charitable agencies. It is meant to urge Catholics to understand and get to know refugees and migrants who have fled poverty, hunger, violence, persecution and the effects of climate change in their homeland.

Christians' embrace of people fleeing war or poverty should be "a bit like the colonnade of St. Peter's Square, which represents the mother Church who embraces all in sharing a common journey," the pope said at the end of his weekly general audience Sept. 27.

In addition to Pope Francis' formal announcement at his weekly general audience, key Church representatives, including Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, Philippines, president of Caritas Internationalis, conducted a media conference the same day.

Cardinal Tagle said, "'Share the Journey' is not just a title or a label for a program — it is that, but more than that, it is a lifestyle," an affirmation that everyone wants and needs someone to share his or her journey through life.

"A small gesture like extending one's arm to somebody else — it means a lot," he said. "I reach out and if a person feels alone and isolated, my reaching out is a gesture of solidarity. If I reach out and that person is wounded, it could be a sign of healing. If I reach out and the person is lost, it could mean an offer of guidance. If I reach out and person feels like nobody cares, then it will be a sign of welcome."

U.S. partners in the effort are the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Migration and Refugee Services, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA.

Much of the effort will be focused on sharing stories about migrants and refugees, the struggles they face and why they chose to seek a better life elsewhere, said Kristin Witte, coordinator of domestic Catholic educational engagement at CRS, which is the U.S. bishops' overseas relief and development agency.

"The hope is that through the stories that are presented, the images presented, that people will be moved from their place of comfort to a place of encounter. That's what the Church is calling us to. That's what the pope is calling us to," she said.

The coalition of Catholic organizations has developed a toolkit in English and Spanish that includes prayers, suggestions for activities for families, prayer groups, classrooms and clergy, and utilizing social media with references to #sharejourney.

Mark Priceman, communications for the bishops' Migration and Refugee Services, said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that about 22 million people are on the move around the world, making the Christian community's awareness and response to their situation critical.

Share the Journey looks to mobilize people quickly. Soon after the opening, the campaign is calling for a week of prayer and action for migrants and refugees Oct. 7-13.

Special prayers at Masses, prayer vigils, simulation exercises, school announcements, lesson plans and speaking events are among the activities suggested as ways to learn about people on the move.

Nearly three dozen cardinals, archbishops and bishops as of Sept. 25 have pledged to participate in the campaign, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The campaign will take advantage of specially designated days throughout the year to raise awareness, including the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe Dec. 12; Lent; the Church's observance of National Migration Week in January; World Refugee Day June 20 and the September 2018 United Nations meeting to consider two global compacts on refugees and migration.

An advocacy component to Share the Journey, Rosenhauer said, gives U.S. Catholics the opportunity to take what they learn about migrants and refugees and approach federal policymakers to better allocate international assistance to address the factors that cause people to flee.

Together with Catholics worldwide, the U.S. organizers said they hope the campaign will begin to ease the burdens under which migrants and refugees live.

"We're mobilizing the worldwide Catholic Church to serve," Witte said. "There are so many networks that the Catholic Church already has that we can infuse an opportunity allow them to live their baptismal call and to stand up for the most vulnerable."

More information and a toolkit on Share the Journey is available online at www.sharejourney.org. Learn more about the international campaign at journey.caritas.org. 

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