How can the Vincentian Family help people who are refugees, internally displaced and victims of human trafficking? Through collaboration and action. These two themes permeated the 3-day FHA Conference.
In his opening homily, Msgr. Robert Vitillo (C.S.) spoke of the importance of addressing both spiritual needs and technical solutions to respond to the needs of refugees. We are therefore encouraged to open our eyes to the realities of suffering that perhaps appear distant to us but which are of vital importance since until the right to a dignified life is not guaranteed to everyone, then it is not guaranteed to anyone.
On Tuesday afternoon, we then focused on the triggers that cause displacement and refugee crises worldwide. In particular, Sr. Francely Elizabeth Pérez (DC) told us how the Daughters of Charity reacted promptly by bringing aid and support to the families afflicted by the 2018 eruption of the Fuego Volcano in Guatemala. Sr. Francely said: ‘We saw many people looking for their husbands, children, wives, parents, relatives. It was common to see 5 to 10 coffins a day in the central park of Alotenango. Cries, screams, lost looks, long silences. Personally, most of the time I didn’t know what to say. I was just accompanying them. Their memory still hits me. Their faces are still in my memory‘.
On the second day, we listened to Sr. Olivia Umoh (DC) spoke about the reality of Ghana and Nigeria and how ‘Talitha Kum’, a network of which the Daughters of Charity are part of, is tackling human trafficking through collaborative initiatives focused on prevention, protection and rehabilitation of survivors.
Following this and other testimonies, Fr. Fabio Baggio (C.S) invited us to reflect on the words of the Holy Father in his Encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’, as they become a tool of awareness and, even more important, of action: the encounter with others is the only way to build a human society that goes beyond any borders.
On the third day, we then focused on the ‘arrival’, and as such on journeys that do not end but continue in the new countries of residence. We heard two testimonies from David Carroll (Depaul Ireland) and Sr Petra Jedličková (DC) talking about the needs of asylum seekers and refugees, in Ireland and Slovakia respectively. Hearing both testimonies helped us reflect on how the journeys of asylum seekers and refugees are full of fear and danger but also hope, and how we all share the same dream: the right to ‘a safe’ place to live and a dignified life.
These and other conversations animated the Conference, led us to reflect and share knowledge as Vincentians, brothers and sisters, and above all as human beings. We learnt that a ‘safe place’ is not yet guaranteed to everyone and inspired us to make sure that we work towards achieving this goal of safety by advocating for the rights of people whose voices are not yet heard.