Message for the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees
Let Us Walk Together towards an Ever Wider “We”
To align herself with the universal Church, the Catholic Church in Korea designates the last Sunday of September as World Day of Migrants and Refugees, to remember and pray for migrants and refugees. This World Day is more meaningful especially this year. Even though, previously, the Catholic Church in Korea has remembered migrants and refugees with the title Day of Migrants, whose name failed to deliver the authentic meaning of the day. However, at the 2021 Spring General Assembly of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea, the bishops clarified that the last Sunday of September is not just for migrants but for refugees also. In addition, they shared that the Catholic Church in Korea needs to consider the difficulties of those compelled to leave their homelands due to political, economic, religious and other reasons, and accompany them towards the future as brother and sisters. Finally, the bishops decided to designate ‘migrant workers in difficult situations in Korea’ as a socially disadvantaged group for 2021 and provide them with more pastoral care. Each diocese in Korea accompanies migrant workers and helps them through fraternal love.
Amid efforts to overcome the current precarious situation, triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Catholic Church is paying special attention to migrant workers because they are the children of God exposed to a particular set of difficulties and pains. As a result of COVID-19 many issues have been forgotten about: the story of migrant workers who fled from an island where they received the brutal treatment; and the Cambodian woman who froze to death in a plastic greenhouse where she was forced to live. Poor working conditions and all kinds of discrimination against migrant workers harm their health and, on occasion, claim their lives. Korean workers also face difficulties. However, a major difference between migrant and Korean workers is that many organizations protest and try to improve the conditions of Korean workers, but there are only a few such organizations working on behalf of migrant workers. Migrant workers are discriminated against because they are foreigners. In light of this social reality, the words of the Lord resonate loudly: “When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you” (Lev 19,33-34).
How should we, the faithful, deal with migrant workers caught in terrible situations? I would like to recall what Pope Francis said in his Message for the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees in 2021, citing his Encyclical Letter, Fratelli Tutti: “Once this health crisis passes, our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation. God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those’, but only ‘us’” (Enc. Fratelli Tutti, n.35). This appeal asks us to free ourselves from a narrow-mindedness that cares only for ‘myself’ and ‘my country’, with the intention of moving towards a broad-mindedness which emphasizes ‘we’. In other words, to overcome the current crisis, humanity needs to discover a path based on a sense of ‘we’ as community. Pope Francis invites us to include migrants and refugees in such a ‘we’. This ever wider ‘we’ that the Pope speaks of includes universality, diversity, and inclusion. An ever wider ‘we’, together with the Holy Spirit, will lead humanity to build a form of communion in diversity and union in difference.
In-line with this development, since Lent this year the Catholic Church in Korea has joined the ‘Movement for Sharing Vaccines with Poor Countries’ in an effort to move beyond COVID-19 in a communal manner which emphasizes ‘we’. This was also part of the Church’s effort to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of St. Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn and the movement for Beatification of Venerable Servant of God Father Thomas Choe Yang-eop. We are fully aware that the COVID-19 crisis will not end even if the virus is defeated in any one country. This is the reason why the Catholic Church in Korea joined the movement for sharing vaccines with poor countries: so that people in those countries will be able to get vaccinated. Such an endeavor is a concrete expression of ‘fraternity’ and an effort to restore a sense of community with ‘we’ at its center, as Pope Francis has called us to do. In a similar manner, I, too, would like to ask you to invite migrant workers and refugees to be ‘we’ through an expression of ‘fraternal love.’
We should keep in mind that migrants and refugees who live and work in Korea are, in fact, no longer others. This is because we already live in harmonious coexistence within a culturally diverse context. Migrants and refugees are the gifts of God, which enable us to recognize and be part of the wider ‘we’. The words, migrant and refugee, imply diversity which enriches us and makes us more mature. When this diversity is respected, ‘fraternal love’ will be realized. Before God, we cannot be classified as we are all brothers and sisters without exception. When we become such an ever wider ‘we’, we renew the true image of humanity as created by God. As the faithful, such is our mission.
“They may all be one” (Jn 17,21).
September 26, 2021
+ John Baptist Jung Shin-chul
Bishop of Incheon
for the Pastoral Care of Migrants
and Foreign Residents Living in Korea