Pope Francis and Archbishop Lucas invite Catholics to ‘Share the Journey’
Editors note: In this week’s interview, Archbishop George J. Lucas speaks with David Hazen, communication manager for the Archdiocese of Omaha, about the forthcoming Share the Journey campaign. Initiated by Pope Francis, Share the Journey is an effort to raise awareness and improve the lives of refugees and migrants worldwide, to be carried out by the universal church and in our archdiocese.
Q: Could you share with us the purpose and scope of Pope Francis’ Share the Journey campaign?
The Holy See has announced that Pope Francis will launch a campaign, which is being called Share the Journey, on Sept. 27. We expect that during his audience that day, he will make some kind of a symbolic gesture that will indicate his desire that all of us join him in somehow embracing those who have migrated into our communities from other places.
Recall that the very first trip that Pope Francis made outside of Rome after his election was to the island of Lampedusa, where many refugees land coming across the Mediterranean from Africa, trying to reach what they hope will be a better life in Europe. Many perish on the journey. So from the beginning of his pontificate, this has been an important part of the Holy Father’s message. He’s going to stress it anew and he’s inviting bishops and Catholics (and) people of good will all over the world, beginning on Sept. 27 (and) in days and weeks following, to focus on the lives and the dignity and on the plight of migrants and refugees around the world. He also ... will ask us, I’m fairly certain, to reach out in some way, some practical way, to accompany those who find themselves away from their native lands.
Q: This campaign comes at a time when the world is seeing the largest number of migrants and refugees since WWII, a reality you saw face to face during your trip to Uganda with Catholic Relief Services. How did that experience affect the way you see this humanitarian issue?
It shouldn’t surprise us that the Holy Father is focusing on this issue, because we are in a moment in history when some of the largest numbers of people have migrated. Many are refugees living in very difficult circumstances, having fled their own homes with only the clothes on their backs or after having lost family members.
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Uganda with Catholic Relief Services. … One of the most moving parts of that trip was the opportunity to visit a refugee settlement in the northern part of the country of Uganda. The settlement is called Bidi Bidi. It is home now to over 300,000 refugees from South Sudan, who have traveled there on foot from their homeland, where they had been suffering terrible persecution and famine. Currently, there are between 1,800 and 2,000 people arriving there daily.
So, try to imagine a medium-sized U.S. city with no running water, no sanitation, no supermarkets, no doctors, no anything. The Ugandan government has been hospitable to receive them. Catholic Relief Services plays a big role in helping meet the basic humanitarian needs of these refugees. It was a privilege to be able to see them face to face.
Pope Francis keeps reminding us that we don’t want to just think of people in groups, but that they have faces and names. We had an opportunity to listen to the harrowing experiences that caused them to flee from their own country, and then to speak with them about what they hoped for now. As you can imagine, they’re hoping for safety, to be able to live in peace and to be healthy, to have food – the simple things that so many of us take for granted.
Before I visited there, I was fairly certain that I was in a good place in terms of thinking and praying for refugees and realizing that we, as a global community, really have a corporate responsibility to care for them, to meet them, to accompany them. But having had the opportunity – the privilege, really – of meeting people face to face and hearing them talk about their experience has brought the reality of it home to me. I think that’s part of the reason that the Holy Father is inviting us to participate in this Share the Journey campaign: He would like us all to get more personally invested in what is not just an "issue" or a worldwide "problem," but to be somehow more invested in the lives of our brothers and sisters in the human family who are living in desperate conditions. …
Q:What message do you hope to convey to Catholics throughout the archdiocese? What actions do you invite us to take?
When we did listening sessions around the archdiocese a couple of years ago leading to the formulation of our pastoral vision, one of the things that we heard very clearly from people all over was the desire for greater unity and a greater sense of belonging to the community of the church as a whole. There was a sense that we are often living past one another. During this Share the Journey campaign, I’d like us particularly to recognize that there are members of our community who come from other cultures, who may speak different languages, who certainly have different God-given gifts and many varied experiences.
I hope that we begin to notice each other, and that we wouldn’t be so much just living past each other. I hope that in our brothers and sisters who have come here as immigrants or refugees, we can see another member of the human family, created in the image and likeness of God, who desires to belong just like we all do. Perhaps this will be an opportunity to think about how we might accompany those who are new to our communities, and then be ready to be accompanied ourselves through a mutual exchange of gifts.
Q: A key step in Share the Journey which will take place on Sept. 27 is your visit with immigrants and refugees at the Juan Diego Center in Omaha. What do you hope to learn and share with them?
The Holy Father is suggesting that the bishops around the world have some experience locally on that day that will help to highlight the presence and the importance of migrants and refugees in our communities. I look forward to having a listening session at the Juan Diego Center with a group that will include both immigrants and refugees. I thought that, rather than just sort of a photo op, it might be good on this day to do something that would actually help me in my ministry as the diocesan pastor, and would also help us in our community to notice one another, to get to know each other, to accompany each other. …
Q: This effort also is taking place at a time when the DACA program is threatened with being terminated in the next six months. Are there actions that the local church will take in trying to help those who are possibly facing deportation or who are confused and concerned about their situation?
The decision of President Trump to rescind the DACA program that was put in place by executive order by President Obama has just thrown the lives of many people into great confusion and uncertainty. It seems that nothing is going to happen immediately and the president has challenged Congress to come up with a permanent solution for those who came here as children or infants. They’re here not because of their decision but because their parents brought them here, and now many are using their gifts and prospering and contributing to the life of the community in various ways. There is no good reason, in most cases, that they should not be able to stay. I think it’s important that those young people and their families know that the church is with them. We see them as our brothers and sisters and we want them to live in peace and to be able to use their gifts in this country as they already have been doing.
This whole issue in the United States fits under this larger context that the Holy Father is inviting us to consider as we "Share the Journey" with those who have moved from another place and who now try to make a life for themselves in the places where they have come to live. We’re responsible for our brothers and sisters. We’re our brother’s keeper, to use the scriptural phrase. So, to say that people who are on the wrong side of the law are of no concern to us, except that we get rid of them, is not in line with the Gospel. They are our brothers and sisters, and so we need to come to an understanding of how the law might be able to support them in their dignity, and let them continue to contribute to the common good, as so many in this DACA category are already doing.