Dating back to the First World War, the commemoration takes places on the final Sunday in September – September 24 this year. It will come just after Pope Francis travels to Marseille, France, for a cultural festival called “the Mediterranean Encounter”.
The visit will shed light on the experience of people seeking refuge from the Middle East and Africa – many of whom haven’t survived the journey across the sea. The Holy Father has called the Mediterranean Europe’s “largest cemetery”.
In his message for this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis encourages people to carefully analyse and understand the complexity of the migration phenomenon. This includes understanding the different stages of migration and ensuring that people’s decision to migrate is truly free.
“Persecutions, wars, atmospheric phenomena and dire poverty are among the most visible causes of forced migrations today,” the Pope writes.
“Migrants flee because of poverty, fear or desperation. Eliminating these causes and thus putting an end to forced migration calls for shared commitment on the part of all, in accordance with the responsibilities of each.
“This commitment begins with asking what we can do, but also what we need to stop doing.”
Archbishop Christopher Prowse, chair of the Bishops Commission for Evangelisation, Laity and Ministry, said the upcoming event invites people to reflect on their current understanding of the lives of refugees and migrants, drawing on the migration experience of the Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office has prepared its annual kit to support parishes, schools and other Catholic communities in marking the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
The Office’s director, Fr Khalid Marogi, said the theme of the Pope message, “Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay”, provides people an opportunity to change their views about the migration narrative.
“Rather than seeing it as a problem that needs to be dealt with, we should celebrate it as a way to foster solidarity, compassion, embrace diversity and promote inclusion,” Fr Marogi said.
“Encouraged by Pope Francis’ words, may we all work to build a community that is prepared to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate everyone.”
The Migrant and Refugee Kit 2023 includes liturgy resources for primary and secondary schools, homily notes, prayers of intercession and parish bulletin notices. The resources can be accessed at www.acmro.catholic.org.au