WASHINGTON — Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville of Washington urged people to take up Pope Francis’ invitation to “move from indifference to solidarity” to be better understand the plight of migrant people and refugees around the world.
“Countries have the moral obligation to open the doors for those who might be richer in dreams and expectations,” Bishop Dorsonville, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said during his homily at a Mass Sept. 26 marking the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington.
He described as “shameful” and “painful” the treatment of Haitians and other migrants arriving at the U.S. border in Texas under conditions of excessive heat and lack of food, water and shelter.
At one point some 15,000 migrants were gathered under the Del Rio International Bridge at the Del Rio Sector.
“We have to respect the human dignity of the person,” he said. “The human person is the image of God.”
The bishop noted that “there are 80 million people around the world, they are refugees, they are migrants, and many of them are victims of human trafficking.” He said many migrant people are often treated as animals “and that is wrong for today’s society.”
Expanding on Pope Francis’ theme of “toward an ever wider ‘we’“ for this year’s observance of the day, Bishop Dorsonville said the faithful are called to love others as much as one’s own family.
“Let us love the stranger,” he said. “Let us love the immigrant, the undocumented, the one who is unfortunately faceless and voiceless because they are the dwelling place of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Dorsonville also urged acceptance, prayer and advocacy — becoming the voice of those without one — as a way to confront polarization in a splintered world.
“We are intended to be a ‘wider we’ … something that calls us together as a church, to walk together and also to make alliances to other churches, to other faiths because the problem is not just one country, these 80 million come from every place around the world and developed societies,” he said.
At the multilingual Mass, Bishop Dorsonville said it was a joy to see a few hundred people who gathered to reflect and pray for migrants, immigrants and displaced people.
In a welcome message, Msgr. W. Ronald Jameson, cathedral rector, greeted three ambassadors, representing the countries of Guatemala, Ecuador and Myanmar, as well as other international representatives who attended the liturgy.
He also read an excerpt from Pope Francis’ annual message for the day, quoting: “We are all in the same boat and called to work together so that there will be no more walls that separate us, no longer others, but only a single ‘we,’ encompassing all of humanity.”
Additionally, Tabla For Two, a Washington-area musical duo who perform Afghan music to promote peace and mutual understanding, provided the hymn during preparation of the Eucharist as well as music during the prelude.
Calling the Mass a “nice surprise,” Maunica Malladi, a Washington resident who attends Mass at St. Matthew’s, did not know of the annual commemoration of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
“Everything about it was beautiful,” Malladi said, adding that for the faithful, the annual event symbolized people’s shared humanity. “Jesus was a refugee as well. We are all his brothers and sisters.”
Xristian Olivas attended the Mass with his mother, Roxana Paalvast, director of strategic initiatives at the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America, who served as a lector during the liturgy. Both agreed that honoring migrants is a primary message of God.
“Jesus Christ says ‘love your neighbor.’ That’s who your neighbors are, migrants, people across the border, people we don’t know,” Olivas told the Catholic Standard, Washington’s archdiocesan newspaper. “We must love, accept, welcome them with open arms.”
Paalvast said it is imperative to fully embrace diversity and multiculturalism. “To welcome the migrants is to follow the essence of God’s teachings,” she said.
Representing the African Catholic Association of the DMV in the Washington area, board member Albert Gyan said it was important to see church leaders and members concerned about refugees, migrants and displaced persons. Within the association, Catholic communities of African descent come together for dialogue and advocacy.
The organization is advocating for more COVID-19 vaccinations for the people of Africa, where currently only 1% of the population has received at least one dose. “We need to have a bigger human family,” Gyan said.
The author, Lynnea Mumola, writes for the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.