A new commission for the coordination of pastoral care of migrant workers and refugees met for the first time on Wednesday, April 27th in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. This initiative is a result of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land’s hope to implement propositions from the Synod for the Middle East pertaining to immigration. The meeting focused on how to be more present as a Church to this population, to improve coordination among priests and pastoral workers already active in the care and support for these marginalized groups – the thousands of foreign workers and refugees in the country.
When we speak of Christians in the Holy Land, one rarely thinks of them as foreign workers or refugees who represent a population of increasing importance. There are about 230,000 foreign workers in the country, majority are Christians. Present as well are 30,000 refugees and asylum seekers. They move about mostly in Hebrew-speaking Jewish society. The Hebrew Speaking Catholic Vicariate faces a significant challenge to meet the pastoral needs of these Catholic immigrants. In a letter dated April 5th, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem appointed Patriarchal Vicar, Fr. David Neuhaus, S.J. coordinator of this new commission.
Present at the meeting were pastors of parishes, hosts to many foreign workers (in Haifa, Jaffa/Tel-Aviv, Eilat, Tiberias); four women religious serving in the prison chaplaincy, Filipino chaplaincy, and refugee clinics; chaplains and pastoral workers of groups from the Philippines, Sudan, India, Sri Lanka, Aftrica (English and French), Ukraine, Eritrea, Lebanon, Latin America; and a lay coordinator from the Sudanese community.
Migrant communities were identified along with their status, number, location, length of stay, presence of children and urgent needs. The commission aims to collaborate with various civil and church agencies and groups in addressing the initial six areas of major concern and other issues as they evolve.
1. Provide full access to the sacraments: administration and proper registration,
2. Improve integration of migrant population within the local Church, increase awareness of local Christians to the presence of these marginalized groups,
3. Develop solidarity across migrant communities, cooperation and awareness of each other’s needs: share activities, Masses and services, resources, meeting places, etc…
4. Need for clergy and clergy visas,
5. Provide catechism for children in Hebrew as majority of migrant workers’ children attend Hebrew schools,
6. Seek resources and expertise for advocacy and rights, contact and collaboration with existing NGOs
The coordination commission will meet regularly, every two or three months. The next meeting is scheduled in June.