Archbishop Tlhagale: Migrants and Refugees – A new missionary territory

On the 23rd November 2021, in his homily to the diocesan coordinators at a workshop on Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale who is the Liaison Bishop for Migrants and Refugees of the SACBC, suggested that pastoral work to Migrants and Refugees be considered a new missionary territory.

Noting that historically what happened to new territories is that resources were put together in order to alleviate challenges that face the people in those new territories, the Archbishop added that, “We are of the opinion that in our modern time one of the major challenges is one of Migrants and Refugees” even though other problems still persist. He said alongside the traditional challenges there is a problem of the movement of people across the world.

Archbishop Tlhagale made a special mention of the Rohingya community that has to move as a whole community, the influx of migrants into a small country like Lebanon, the movements in Sudan, the situation in Belarus and the movements of people from South America attempting to enter the USA. “They live and sleep in the open because they are refused to cross the boundaries”, added the Archbishop. “And that is why we are saying migrants and refugees are a new missionary territory in our days”, repeated the Archbishop.

There are four things that the archbishop said needed to be prayed for in response to the migrants and refugee situation; “That God Almighty will give us the strength of will to do good to migrants and refugees, the strength to see this major challenge.” Secondly, he said “when we celebrate advent, we hope that Christ will find us eager to welcome him. So, we pray that we too should be eager to welcome visitors, to welcome migrants and refugees in our community.” He added that there is a need to recruit more people to help in welcoming migrants and refugees. He then said thirdly, “We need to pray to God that he be generous in increasing our love. A love that is not selective. A love that accepts another human being. Now that’s a tall order, easier said than done.”  Fourthly, “To pray that God removes the obstacles that hinder us from receiving others, so to be able to accept those in need who simply ask to be recognized as persons.”  He continued saying there is a need to pray that communities can have the generosity of heart and not take their anger and frustration out on migrants and refugees.

In wanting to be practical about the challenge the Archbishop of Johannesburg said, “Our biggest mission will be to have in every parish people dedicated to this new mission of migrants and refugees.” The Archbishop emphasized that point because he observed that conflict happens at community level and not at government administrative offices in Pretoria and Cape Town.

The workshop on Pastoral Care for Migrants and Refugees will run for two days. The first day also saw a presentation by Fr. Eduardo Gabriel, a Scalabrini priest who is a researcher and coordinator at SIHMA (Scalabrini Institute for Human Mobility in Africa) Johannesburg. In his presentation he noted that “sometimes we wait for someone to do something for migrants and refugees instead of us being the ones to do something”. He also noted the importance of Pope Francis’ first trip when he went to express his solidarity with the migrants in Lampedusa, Italy. According to Fr Gabriel it is important that migrants and refugees feel welcome. As a piece of advice to the attendees of the workshop he pointed out that when people go out to work with migrants and refugees it is important to listen to them, “to be able to help them with your hands listen to them first”. He summarized his message by highlighting the importance of taking an initiative to help migrants and refugees, by welcoming them, being close to them and showing solidarity with them.  

There was also a presentation by Sally Gandar, an attorney by profession, a Head of Advocacy and Legal Advisor at the Scalabrini Centre in Cape Town. She spoke about Understanding Migration in South Africa and the Legal Framework of Migration in South Africa.

The different groups from the different parts of the country at the workshop had an opportunity to make presentations of their work with migrants and refugees. The have spoken of many positive experiences of success in stabilizing the lives of migrants and refugees, but they have also mentioned some challenges. Among the challenges were the problem of migrants who exploit the system by moving from one organization to another seeking help for the same thing they have already received from other organizations. The other problem is the local crimes linked to some migrants.

On the second day the workshop will deal with, among other things, Mobile data capturing solution for undocumented and stateless children out of school. They will also touch on how to plan activities with migrants and refugees at the local level.

This workshop is a response to the resolution that was taken in 2019 by the SACBC to appoint in parishes a contact person for migrants and refugees, and a development of a diocesan network, metropolitan network, and national, with training and formation programmes for those who commit themselves to the ministry of migrants an refugees.

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