14 SEPTEMBER 2023
The Zimbabwe Catholics Bishops’ Conference joins the Holy Father and the whole Church in celebrating the 109th World Day for Migration and Refugees (WDMR), on the 24th of September 2023. This year the celebration’s theme is, “Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay.” The Holy Father, Pope Francis’ message towards this important celebration, is to give hope to the people on the move, namely migrants and refugees. He challenges receiving communities to open their hands to such people and make the displaced people feel at home while away from their original homes. In this way, the people on the move, will be assisted to build a new future, and work towards regaining their dignity. The Holy Father challenges all Christians, particularly here in Zimbabwe, as to how we can make our communities ever more inclusive and offer protection, promotion and integration of migrants and refugees.
The Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office (CPLO) that works with migrants and refugees, as the social arm of ZCBC, wishes to assure the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development in the Vatican that, despite the limited resources, the local Church is active in advocating for the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees in Zimbabwe. The Church is constantly encouraged to receive such people and allow them to live peacefully within their communities besides living in the refugee camps. The CPLO is working in collaboration with Caritas and offers pastoral counselling services and advocacy for refugees and migrants who are sometimes abruptly arrested for different reasons.
Every migrant and refugee is unique and has a story to tell, and if that story is given a synodal listening ear, it can change the perceptions on how people look at the issue of migrants and refugees or those on the move. The migrant youth, elders, women, people living with disability, orphans, married or single persons, have a story to tell. Their story might be a painful one, full of despair, fear and yet full of trust on the one listening, as displayed in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-49. What was of importance to Jesus was to listen to those disciples who had chosen to leave the rest due to fear and threats they had received from the surrounding communities of the Jews. Jesus listened to their story and in turn, they listened to Jesus’ narrative to the extent of welcoming each other into their home, their perceptions were enriched through that encounter. Displaced people have a lot to offer. They can enrich and broaden the way hosting communities see things.
This is the message of the Holy Father, to listen and to give hope to the people on the move, as they seek shelter and protection here in Zimbabwe or as migrants, in transit to neighbouring countries. The greatest gift one can offer to the displaced people is to listen to them and give them assurance that they are important, welcome and safe within the host communities. It is important that the local authorities be involved in this as well so that the re-integration of such people is done in accordance with the laws of the hosting country. In fact, migrants and refugees have had enough abuses, threats and degrading situations and have lost almost everything, even their dignity, and hence they should be accorded a dignified settlement and a new start within hosting communities. It is therefore the duty of every person, to protect, promote and help migrants and refugees, to be at home away from their original homes. It is when they are in safe places that they are free to choose whether to migrate or stay.
Abraham in the Bible, received Angels and these same Angels saved him and his relative Lot, from the predicament that befell Sodom and Gomora. (Gen. 21:1). In the Zimbabwean local tradition, it is said, a visitor never finishes the food in the barn, (Muenzi haapedzi dura), so any visitor is welcome and should be fed because the barn has enough for everyone, including the displaced people. Such visitors are a blessing to the hosting communities like in Tongogara Refugee Camp area in Zimbabwe, where over 14000 displaced people are in that Camp, while others are integrated into the communities through marriages or partnering into business ventures with the locals. This is possible only when displaced people are made to feel at home.
In integrating the displaced people, the Church and hosting communities are challenged not to plan for these people, but to involve them in finding a way forward in integrating them and in a way that benefits both communities. In fact, amongst the displaced people, some are professionals, university students, and entrepreneurs while others are good in some related fields, and hence through their expertise, both the hosted and the hosting community, benefit each other a lot. Such diverse fields and skills, can enrich the hosting community more. Being displaced is not being disabled, but it is a movement to share and showcase one’s skills and future skills.
As we celebrate the 109th WDMR, we the ZCBC, call upon our communities to be open to those on the move and offer necessary help as Christians where there is a need. In Mathew 25, Jesus challenged his audience that, “I was homeless and you never welcomed me, hungry and you never gave me food…” This is the time and era whereby we are called to live our gospel values of love and care for each other as called for in Fratelli Tutti. In that Encyclical Pope Francis, calls all people to live as one family while looking for solutions to restore the world’s political, health, social, economic crisis. We as Christians and people of goodwill, are challenged to become good neighbours as shown in Luke 10:25-37, in the story of the Good Samaritan. In this way, as we attend to the displaced people, we build healthy relationships within families, communities, cities and the world at large. (Fratelli Tutti Nos. 6; 8;17). This helps in building dreams with the displaced people, irrespective of their status, positions, religion, tribe, nationality, race, colour, and gender.
Therefore, in celebrating the WDMR the call is to treat those in need of our help, with dignity and respect. The way we treat them, will define our identity as Zimbabweans and as Christians. This can be made possible, once we allow the synodal spirit of listening, participation and mission, to prevail. Migrants and refugees are humans with the same dignity as those who host them. After all, we are all, pilgrims on our way to our heavenly home, where if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God an eternal home. (2Cor. 5). We therefore acknowledge that migrants and refuges should feel at home among us and that they are free to choose whether to migrate or to stay. We pray for migrants within Zimbabwean borders and outside that they be respected and given the dignity they deserve as people on the move.
For any contributions in helping the national office to offer effective service to our vulnerable brothers and sisters who are displaced from their countries, kindly channel your donation through your Diocesan Offices. Any contribution towards this noble cause is greatly appreciated.
Bishop Chair on Migrants and Refugees Matters.
+ Archbishop Alex Thomas SVD
(Archbishop of Bulawayo)