IMBISA Workshop on the care to migrants and refugees

IMBISA Workshop on the care to migrants and refugees

21-24 February 2022 – The mission of the Migrants and Refugees Section is to accompany the local Churches in their pastoral responses to people on the move in countries of origin, transit and arrival. The Africa Coordination Team was therefore happy and honoured to accept the invitation from the IMBISA Secretariat under the leadership of Fr Dumisani Vilakati to participate in an workshop in Pretoria, South Africa, intended to reflect and share on the pastoral care to migrants and refugees in the IMBISA region in the light of the Encyclical Fratelli Tutti of Pope Francis. All Episcopal Conferences of the Region were represented: Angola and São Tomé (CEAST), Lesotho (LCBC), Mozambique (CEM), Namibia (NCBC), SACBC (South Africa, Botswana and Eswatini) and Zimbabwe (ZCBC). The workshop was aimed at conference secretaries-general and the Migrants and Refugees (M&R) and Justice and Peace (JP) Commissions. 

Bishop Joseph Kizito, from the diocese of Aliwal North, was present as the new SACBC Liaison Bishop for Migrants and Refugees matters and said that “people working with migrants and refugees are expected to be the rock and give hope to these vulnerable groups in our society”. Also present was the bishop of Manzini, José Luís Ponce de León IMC, who pointed out that the sharing of stories and good practices on the lives and experiences of migrants and refugees remains one of the most important ways in which people can learn more about the plight and challenges they face.

Fr Celestino Epalanga SJ from the JP in Angola was one of the keynote speakers and stressed some elements to address the migratory phenomenons in the region:

  1. Identify and analyse the causes at the origin of migratory movements so as to find the most adequate solutions.
  2. Fight against social injustices and inadequate living conditions.
  3. Promote resilience in communities affected by the climate crisis
  4. Use the tools at our disposal like the pastoral documents published by the Holy See.

Rampe Hlobo SJ, from the SACBC M&R team, for his part, highlighted some of the major causes for migration in today’s world: conflicts and wars, abuse of human rights, demographic and economic factors, unemployment, lack of proper education and health facilities, political instability and corruption, the climate crisis, religious fundamentalism, socio-cultural factors and xenophobia and scapegoating.

Mário Almeida, the Assistant Regional Coordinator for Africa, made a presentation on the mission and vision of the M&R Section and on the several Pastoral Orientations on care for Migrants, Refugees, Victims of Human Trafficking, Internally Displaced Persons and Climate Displaced People. Fr Peter-John Pearson, of the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office in Cape Town, emphasised the need to strengthen the Church’s collaborative advocacy initiatives in order to address challenges faced by migrants and refugees.

Special mention should be made of the following interventions by pastoral workers directly involved with people on the move: by Fr Armando Olívio, parish priest of Balama, in the diocese of Pemba in Mozambique, on the conflict in Cabo Delgado and the Church’s response to the drama of the internally displaced persons; and by Sister Esnath Gondo, working near the border of Beitbridge, in Zimbabwe, with many people in a situation of serious material deprivation and who intend to move to South Africa in search of better living conditions.

The final sessions of the workshop were dedicated to sharing of successes and challenges by the representatives of the several Bishops’ Conferences present and to offering some indications for future IMBISA engagements.

After the workshop, we had the opportunity to visit with Sr Maria de Lurdes Rissini MSCS, Coordinator of the SACBC M&R Office, the SACBC offices in Pretoria, the premises of the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and several projects with migrants and refugees in the Johannesburg area.

Mário Almeida
Africa Coordination