Tag Archive | migrants

World Refugees

UnknownI just returned from the Chicago Art Institute’s exhibition of Van Gogh’s three paintings of his bedroom in Arles. The display notes that he lived in 37 places during his 37 years of life, and how hungry he was for a secure place where he could “nest.” His relatively tiny bedroom was a treasure for him, and he painted it three times even though painting an empty bedroom seemed a very odd thing to do at the time.

I took the bus to and from the exhibit, driving along Lake Michigan a distance of about 7 miles. I didn’t attempt to count the huge apartment images-1complexes that lined my route nor estimate the population of each, but I pondered the fact that each occupant was unique, with his or her own name, history, loves and concerns. The number of these individuals is beyond my power of comprehension. Yet this 7 mile stretch is just one small section of Chicago, with its population of about 2.7 million people.

My point? I was connecting these experiences with the current reality of world refugees. I kept tying to imagine those buildings bombed out and all those people forced to seek shelter,  to discover a secure “nest” for themselves and their family. Each one craving a place to be dry and warm and fed, to start again, to live without fear, and to deal with the trauma they had each experienced — whether by war, oppression, or climate disruption. Each one aching for the treasured family, friends, and home, education, jobs, and yes, things, that they were forced to leave behind.

Multiply the population of Chicago about 19 times to reach the number of men, women and children  — more than half the total are children! — seeking shelter  in their own country or in refugee camps or trudging to wherever they might find welcome, risking (and often losing) their lives, hoping to finally reach safety and a room to call their own.

World Refugee Day, June 20

The United Nations’ World Refugee Day honors the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland because of persecution, violence and climate change. (Climate change is not yet formally on the UN list, but it is responsible for increasing numbers of refugees.) Technically, “refugees” seek a secure home outside their own country; “internally displaced people” — IDP — seek security within it. Right now these two groups total nearly 60 million people. And remember: over half of them are children.

Laudato Si’ and Jubilee Year of Mercy

Two days before the annual remembrance of world refugees is the one-year anniversary of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ encyclical, in which he calls attention of all people (not just Catholics) to the plight of refugees. In addition, Pope Francis has named this the Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Pope urges Christians to reflect on the call — and abundant opportunity — to practice the Corporal Work of Mercy to “welcome the stranger.”

imagesThe Pope himself has taken this action. After appealing to “the parishes, religious communities, monasteries and sanctuaries in all of Europe to express the Gospel concretely by taking in a family of refugees,” Pope Francis visited the frontline of Europe’s migrant crisis at a camp in Lesbos, Greece, and returned to the Vatican with three astonished families of Syrian refugees.

While setting an example of immediate action, the Pope is equally concerned about the causes of the crisis. “These poor people are fleeing war, hunger, but that is the tip of the iceberg. Because underneath that is the cause, and the cause is a bad and unjust socio-economic system, in everything, in the world.” While welcoming the stranger has moral and religious foundations, integrating these refugees is also a smart move politically. The best way to avoid making an enemy is to make a friend.


9d18180b-8502-4d19-85fa-e8fbe98473a4My own parish, St. Gertrude in Chicago, collected resources for a Syrian family we planned to adopt. With the strong support of our pastor, Fr. Dominic Grassi, over 100 parishioners volunteered to help, and the entire parish contributed financially to provide rent and material needs. Before “our” family arrived, two local refugee families experienced emergencies that resulted in our using rent money for one of these families and using our housing and supplies for the other. We are again prepared to welcome the Syrian family as soon as one completes the long process of application and is granted asylum in the United States.

Adopting a family is both a challenging and a rewarding adventure. Some countries (like Jordan, with 21% of its population now refugees) have major problems with that influx. Other countries (like the United States, with a population of nearly 322 million) could almost certainly absorb more refugees.

But everyone can contribute to groups that help. And, like the Pope, we can all be concerned about the  violence, inequality, oppression and climate change causing the current exodus from so many countries. We can all vote for leaders committed to improving the world we share. We can all be attentive to make our culture welcoming and compassionate. Christians have the additional incentive that whatsoever we do to anyone, we do to Christ, but every religion has a version of the Golden Rule. How shall we practice it?


Best wishes for a richly blessed New Year to you, your loved ones and to every creature with whom we share our precious planet — especially those fleeing war, climate disruption, and poverty and those caught in human slavery.

Special Remembrances

This new year (in the Gregorian calendar) begins with the World Day of Peace within the Catholic Jubilee Year of Mercy. Catholics of the Latin Rite celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation and exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the “holy Mother.” Lutherans and others (and Catholics until 1960, when it became the day for Mary)  celebrate the Circumcision — itself reminding us Christians of our Jewish roots. January is dedicated to poverty awareness and National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention. Jan. 11th is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day; Jan. 6 – 12 marks National Migration Week; and on Jan. 22 the Catholic Church prays for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children.

Whew! That seems a lot. But reflection shows that many items on that list are closely  interconnected. How many connections can you find?

29803BB600000578-3117954-Desperate_The_terrified_African_migrants_were_photographed_cling-a-83_1433929832763For your daily or at least occasional use during this month, I add a short Prayer for Migrants and a longer Trafficking Reflection. My sincere thanks to Jane Deren, Education for Justice Project at the Center of Concern, Washington DC for the Prayer for Migrants, and to Rose Mary Meyer, BVM, Project IRENE, for the slightly-altered longer reflection on Trafficking.

Prayer for Migrants

For all those who see “home” and all it means,
migrantsDisappear behind them;
For all those who cannot see a home
In the days ahead of them;
For all those who dwell in
Daily insecurity;
For all those who are weary and
Without a safe place to rest their heads;
For all families in migration we pray.
May the image of the Holy Family
WO-AX016_GRMIGR_J_20150701223639Fleeing oppression stay with us as we enter a New Year,
And stay with us each night as we are blessed
With returning to a home.
May we also be blessed
With compassion for those
Still weary, still seeking,
Still with so far to go.

Trafficking Reflection

smugglers-net-for-illegal-migrant-tradeOpening Prayer

Creator of All, we gather together to remember that every child, every woman, every man is a unique image of you.  We are grateful for your creative diversity manifested among us.

Compassionate Creator, we gather also to grieve the enslavement of children and adults who are victimized by traffickers.  We mourn the loss of their dignity and for some the loss of their lives.

Loving Creator, we gather also to pledge to act according to our circumstances to stop human trafficking in the geographic area in which we live and in our global home.  May we be constant in our prayer and action so that, with our global sisters and brothers who are also opposed to trafficking, we might end this horrific tragedy.  This we proclaim with persistence and compassion, with faith and hope, with conviction and love.  Amen.

Reality Reading, Vatican Radio

The physical, economic, sexual and psychological exploitation of men and women, boys and girls, currently holds tens of millions in inhumane and humiliating bondage.  …  All are encouraged, therefore, to work to help men and women, and children who are enslaved, exploited, abused as instruments of work or pleasure, who are often tortured and sadly mutilated.

Reading from the writings of Pope Francis

It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prudential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programs, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.

Silent Reflection


148239165_973ea4870bChoose one real life story from the situations described below.  Ponder the questions in silence.  After a few minutes, if doing this in a group, you will be invited to share.  

Recently a woman was convicted of trafficking and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.  She reportedly controlled a business that exploited multitudes of women.  To hide her trafficking activity, she became an officer in an organization dedicated to anti-trafficking activities.  She was publicly acknowledged for her anti-trafficking activities by a group who had no idea that she was a trafficker.  How could this happen?  What is happening in the area where I live that allows trafficking to occur?  

A high school student who attended school during the day and lived at home at night was being trafficked.  Her mother noticed nothing.  A neighbor woman “tuned in” to what was happening and reported the situation.  The young woman is no longer being trafficked.   How could this happen?  What is happening in the area where I live that allows trafficking to occur?

BC_sex-trafficking-portraitEllie was a young teenager when she met her trafficker who convinced her that he was her  boyfriend.  He provided gifts and attention that her parents could not provide.  Her “Prince Charming” was her trafficker who got her hooked on cocaine.  He sold her to get money to feed his addition. Some years later he went to prison.  She now realizes that she was a very vulnerable teenager and misunderstood his “care” for her.  Her story is the story of multitudes of trafficked persons.  How could this happen?  What is happening in the area where I live that allows trafficking to occur?

Victims of human trafficking are often found in the restaurant industry where they are forced into labor trafficking as waiters, kitchen staff, cooks with little or no pay.  They often experience long work hours with little time off.  How could this happen?  What is happening in the area where I live that allows trafficking to occur?

Victims of sex and labor trafficking have been discovered among beauty and health services.  These places include beauty parlors, hair and nail salons, spas.  Services include hairstyling, manicures, massages, pedicures, skin care.  How could this happen?  What is happening in the area where I live that allows trafficking to occur?

The Polaris Project, an education and advocacy group regarding human trafficking, estimates that 100,000 children are sold into “slavery” each year in the United States.  Because of the hidden nature of trafficking, this number is clearly an estimate.  How could this happen?  What is happening in the area where I live that allows trafficking to occur?


If with a group, you are invited to share with the person(s) sitting next to you the situation that you chose to ponder.  Why did you choose that particular situation?  What insight came to you?  Or?


Response  (from the writings of Pope Francis)
“…no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings.’’

080715_migrantsLeft: Victims of labor trafficking have been found among this nation’s migrant and seasonal farmworkers, including children, women and men who harvest crops, care for domestic animals, work in orchards, nurseries and packing plants.

Right: Victims of both sex and labor trafficking have been found in strip clubs. Victims include both adult women and minors.

Left: Victims of both labor and sex trafficking have been found in the hospitality industry.  Recently it was discovered that traffickers had rented an entire floor in a hotel for the purpose of sex trafficking.  Labor trafficking includes work as room attendants, front desk, kitchen, restaurant workers.

Right: Sex and labor exploitation are not inevitable.  People worldwide need to engage in prayer, education, action, legislative initiatives on local, state, national and international levels.

Action Possibilities

What can I/we do to combat human trafficking which is the second largest criminal activity in the world, nearly a $150 billion business?

With the limited funds I have, do I purchase only gifts that are designated as Fair Trade items?  Check out tenthousandvillages.com, www.MayaWorks.org, UPAVIMcrafts.org, canaanusa.com and other websites as well as stores that sell Fair Trade products in your geographic area.

If I am a chocolate lover, do I eat only Fair Trade chocolate and/or give Fair Trade chocolate as gifts?  Do I tell everyone I meet personally or contact via email, letters, phone, social media about Fair Trade chocolate, coffee, tea?  Do I check out Fair Trade websites such as equalexchange.coop?

Do I call the National Human Trafficking Hotline — 1 888 373-7888 — when I feel that I might have witnessed a trafficking situation?

Do I carry this number with me at all times?  If I have a cell, is this number listed as one of my contacts?  Do I share this number with co-workers, friends, neighbors, relatives?

Do I check the Bakhita Initiative website (bakhitainitiative.com) which focuses on Catholic sisters against human trafficking?  Do I share this website with others?

For more information on labor trafficking, do I check the website of the International Labor Organization?  Their “Lured by a job, trapped in forced labor” is a powerful creative presentation.

Do I work in coalition with other groups whose focus is on anti-trafficking activity?

In the state in which I live, what anti-trafficking laws have been passed?  How are these laws being monitored to assure that the justice required by these laws is becoming a reality?

Do I include survivors of human trafficking as well as those who are still victims of human trafficking in my prayers and petitions during liturgy?

Do I also include those who are responsible for human trafficking in my prayers as well as in petitions during liturgy?


Ponder quietly for a few minutes and choose an action that is possible for you.


Compassionate and loving Creator of all, we thank you for the gift of time to ponder the horrific realities of human trafficking.  We pledge to do what is possible to stop this local and global tragedy.  May our efforts, combined with  the efforts of our local and global sisters and brothers, transform local and global trafficking realities into dignity and justice for all.  This we ask with great confidence in you, our compassionate and loving Creator of all.  Amen.


International Symposium on the Pastoral Care of the Road/Street, Pontifical Council on Migrant and Itinerant People, Vatican Radio
Labor Trafficking Cases by Industry in the United States, National Human Trafficking Resource Center
Polaris Project, www.polarisproject.org
Prepared Text, Pope Francis’ Speech to the United Nations General Assembly
US Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, www.sistersagainsthuman trafficking.org
Your Sister, Vancouver, BC