Conferences come in different styles and flavors. Some, although informative and helpful, can be very dry. Some are unremarkable and quickly forgotten. Others inspire and lead naturally to shared action commitments.
Such was the FHA Refugee Conference. Seventy FamVin members gathered in Seville this month to discuss how to accompany refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as part of FHA’s commitment to respond creatively to the needs of homeless persons (including street sleepers and slum dwellers). Another 90-100 people joined online in spite of the time differences around the world.
In this article I would like to share some highlights of the conference by focusing on several of the comments that most impacted participants.
Fr. Bob Maloney’s keynote spoke beautifully of the Vincentian Heritage of accompanying displaced persons, described the contributions of largely unknown collaborators of St. Vincent, and called the Family to continue that tradition today with creative imagination.
Other keynote addresses reminded us that Welcoming the Stranger is an ancient religious value, and shared current statistics and document references.
How to Preach Good News to Those in Deep Sorrow Who have Lost Everything?
This question brought complete silence to the room. Fr. Vitaly Novak CM, of the Ukraine, spoke eloquently of the suffering of his people. There was no easy answer. But one idea clearly emerged, a central insight of the entire conference:
Keep the Individual Central
Let’s not get lost in numbers. Focus on the real people who seek refuge, individuals much like us, who need some light in their darkness. Know them, listen to them, learn from them, let them tell us what they need and what we can do. Include them, respect their human dignity. “Nothing about refugees without refugees.”
What Can I and We Do?
This variant of the Vincentian Question “What must be done” emerged again and again. We want to follow Vincent’s words “Say little, do much.”
“I have been there”
A victim of human trafficking held the room spellbound sharing her story. A valiant woman who has survived—with the help of Daughters of Charity—and is building a new life. Then a refugee drama also helped keep it all real with a moving portrayal—in silence-- of the dangers and disasters typically faced by those forced to flee into the unknown.
Pope Francis’s mantra of Welcome-Protect-Promote-Integrate guided conference thinking about responding to the needs of displaced persons in areas served by our Family. We were reminded that when we accompany refugees we walk on sacred ground, we do not impose our worldview, nor our solutions. We do not “assimilate” them, we integrate them, knowing that they enrich receiving communities and all of us with their dreams and talents.
FHA updated us on the remarkable success of the 13 Houses Campaign: 8187 persons served, in 55 countries, through 84 projects. And for the coming year will focus on the plight of refugees, people trafficked and IDPs.
In his closing remarks Mark McGreevy, FHA’s leader, announced 7 concrete actions, steps the Alliance will carry out in the next year, with the hope that the Family will do all in its power to collaborate with this ambitious program.
I’m not listing the 7 steps here. I’m challenging readers to discover them. We need to improve communication in the Family, so I hope we all follow FHA’s information streams:
This work is systemic change on a global scale. It serves those most in need. It is totally Vincentian and should make us proud. We should join its efforts.
We began with “Going into the darkness looking for light” and we end with the powerful words of the poet Amanda Gorman:
For there is always light
If only we are brave enough to see it
If only we are brave enough to be it.
UN NGO for the Congregation of the Mission
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