Migration, immigration and respect for one another regardless of cultural background were the themes of the First Friday evening at Sacred Heart Monastery on February 7. Members of the North American Migration Committee led the evening, beginning with Eucharist, and concluding with a presentation to the formation community.
“Every person in this room has a story of immigration or migration, a story of encounter,” said Fr. Richard MacDonald, SCJ, in his introduction to the evening presentation.
Lily Ooi, a Canadian member of the Migration Committee, gave a quick overview of “Migration 101,” defining some of the terminology surrounding immigration, some of the reasons why people leave their homeland, and the challenges of starting anew.
Two SCJs shared their own migration stories: Fr. Quang Nguyen and Fr. Peter McKenna. Fr. Quang and his family were among the “boat people” who fled Vietnam. After several tries, and months in refugee camps in Singapore and then the Philippines, in 1988 he was one of the last members of his family to arrive in the United States. He spoke of being new to the cultures of the refugee camps in which he lived, and then United States, but also of being new to the culture of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. “There weren’t people who looked like me when I entered formation,” he said, noting that the Dehonian presence in North America at that time was primarily Caucasian.
“But now,” he said as looked around the room, “it is wonderfully different.” Among the students, postulants, novices, formation team and committee members represented in the room were people from St. Lucia, Nigeria, Vietnam, Poland, the Netherlands, Argentina, Canada and Togo, as well as the United States. The issues of migration and immigration are a lived experience for many Dehonians in North America, reflecting the lived experience of the congregation throughout the world.
Another SCJ to share his story was Fr. Peter McKenna, a member of the Canadian Region who spoke of his time serving at the Generalate in Rome. “There were 50 SCJs in the house and I was the only one for whom English was my mother tongue,” he said. Everything from prayers, to meetings, to meals were in Italian. When others were on afternoon siesta, Fr. Peter took Italian classes. It wasn’t until he stopped to help at a soup kitchen on the way home from class that he started to feel a sense of connection. The connection was with refugees seeking assistance at the center, people who were in Rome because of much different circumstances, but who, like him, struggled to find connection. “I was a refugee too.”
“What does it mean to feel welcome, to be welcomed?” he continued. “We have to bloom where we are planted. What is God asking of you at this moment? How are you being asked to make life easier for a refugee, a migrant? God is asking you to offer a gift of yourself; what is it?”
Students and SCJs broke into small groups to reflect on what they heard, and talk about what they could do to help migrants.
Noting that students are pulled in many directions, including ministry, school and prayer, one group emphasized that no matter how busy a person is, there is always something that he can do. Being present and listening to another is a first step. It is important to not just be welcoming of others, but to learn about the cultures of others, especially those with whom one lives. Other suggestions included helping migrants fill out forms, volunteering with Catholic Charities, “or simply muting the television for a few minutes to call your government representative to express your concern about a migration issue, or send an email.”
“Prayer AND action,” said Fr. Jan de Jong, SCJ, a member of the migration committee. “It is who we are as Dehonians. We can’t forget the ‘AND.’”