A brainchild of Caritas Internationalis, the Share the Journey Campaign is an initiative of the Church worldwide encouraging people to welcome migrants and refugees, by seeing them as friends that can offer benefits to a community rather than just a problem to be dealt with.
A prayer gathering to mark the beginning of the campaign was held in Hong Kong on September 27, the same day as Pope Francis launched the initiative in Rome.
Last year, the total number of refugees around the world broke through 65 million mark, hitting a record high. Some parts in the Middle East, Africa and southern Asia are afflicted by warfare and conflict, forcing people to flee and while mostly it is poor countries that open their doors to them, Europe is geographically convenient to some affected areas. But Hong Kong is a stop on the way for some and a significant number have become stranded here.
Hong Kong is a city of migrants, with one of its largest coherent groups, foreign domestic workers, also one of the least cared for. Around 350,000 of them quietly go about the work of serving local families.
Hong Kong calls itself an international city and proclaims itself as a hub of diversified cultures. But government policies do not always reflect this and minority groups of non-Chinese people, foreign domestic workers, refugees and asylum seekers are mostly kept well away from mainstream society.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul proactively offers services to refugees, not so much in material assistance, but by inviting them to join mainstream activities in schools and parishes so they may be introduced to the wider society.
While Filipinos make up by far the bulk of the Catholic migrant population, they are only slightly more numerous than their Indonesian counterparts, who are mostly Muslim. The vagaries of their work contracts demand that a range of emergency services be made available to them and these are being broadened to embrace people of all faiths and none.
There is also a strong team of people who spend part of their Sundays visiting foreign inmates in the city’s prisons.
A people that cannot welcome the stranger cannot call their city an international metropolis. The ability to welcome and integrate comes from dialogue and the Share the Journey Campaign is aimed at building the cultural sensitivity to be truly inclusive.
It demands an appreciation of the foreign and the sub-cultures they form when away from their native lands, but they also have much to share and to teach, which can only happen through dialogue.
The Share the Journey Campaign reminds us to value the contribution made by migrants and refugees to society. The Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Workers in Kowloon emphasises the empowerment of ethnic minorities, proposing employment policies so they may be embraced as contributors to life in the city.
Pope Francis said the Church must become the home and the school of communion, enabling everyone to learn to appreciate and accept others’ strengths and weaknesses. The recent Asian Youth Day in Indonesia encouraged young people to come out of their comfort zones to encounter and embrace people from different cultural backgrounds.
St. Columban once said, “A life unlike your own can be your teacher.” SE