Sharing the road with refugees
Mario Brisson, SJ (GLC)
My work with refugees has led me back to a personal experience of loss. When I was a child, my family had a farm in Saguenay region (East Quebec), and later on we had to move to the city. The refugees I work with have had to leave their own countries because of famine, war, torture, persecution, and some because of their commitment to justice and peace.
The losses these families endure are huge. They are bereaved in many ways, having lost a brother, sister, father or mother, friends, neighbours... I am thinking in particular of one woman who was beaten in the refugee camp, and who has been waiting month after month for her niece with her young son to arrive in Quebec. I am thinking of a man who has been waiting for his brother for eight years due to administrative issues which take priority over humane considerations. There are many such stories.
The bereavement of migrants and refugees also extends to their homes, their businesses, their work. They are brutally separated from their home environment, their culture, many of their basic values.. Without forgetting that they have to overcome the impact of physical abuse, persecution and uncertainties which take all sorts of forms, including the feeling of being shunned by society and difficulties in finding employment. All of this recalls harrowing situations experienced in their countries of origin.
The power of the Good News is that we can reread it from certain moments in our own lives and there discover the hand of God in our daily experiences, in what we are. In contact with refugees, I have discovered the depth of their lives. Although they mainly belong to a different religion from my own, I have seen what God does and achieves in them.
I was unable to find words for certain aspects of my life. In contact with immigrants and refugees, I can do this better, to discover a part of myself which has been given back to me. In the same way, a society which welcomes new arrivals in its midst will grow in wisdom and grace if it knows how to absorb the values and riches they bring with them. Welcoming works both ways; in a climate of mutual trust, the host society changes, along with the new arrivals who desire to live in and with it. In this way, immigration becomes a win-win situation, a challenge for every Christian and all people of good will. Mutual acceptance is the way to the Future.