Silence. Tears. And then applause. The core meaning of a dangerous, tortuous journey, full of fear, but also hope for a better future is encapsulated in the embrace of the beneficiaries of the projects of the Daughters of Charity (DC) in Seville, Spain, where our Conference took place from the 7th to 9th June. The beneficiaries wanted to represent the journey of a refugee in all its facets; from the fear of not making it, to the agony of a mother having to choose between those who stay and those who leave, to the deaths at sea. And yet, there is that hope for a better future; a future that is not easy to conquer and adds a further weight to carry on this tormented journey.
This performance and other significant moments represented the living heart of the Conference, thrilling the participants both in-person and online. The Conference focused on the journey of people who are refugees, internally displaced or victims of human trafficking. The meeting brought together around 120 practitioners both online and in-person, from 20 countries, and saw the presence of experts from lived experience who shared their knowledge and testimonies to reflect on how we can better accompany those in need during their journeys to a safer place.
Mark Mc Greevy, (Depaul Group), together with María del Carmen Polo Brazo, DC, introduced the Conference, welcoming participants and outlining the history of the Vincentian Family in helping homeless people by focusing on ‘accompaniment’: being on the ground with the people who are being served. Other speakers included Vatican migration specialists Msgr. Robert Vitillo and Fr. Fabio Baggio, CS; Rhea Tariq, (CAFOD); Sarah Omrane (Caritas Suisse); Tony Mireles (SSVP) and Fr. Joseph Agostino (VFO). There was also great participation from the Daughters of Charity, who came from Guatemala, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Ghana, Nigeria and Slovakia to share their vast experience in this area of work. Together, we discussed the needs of people who are refugees, internally displaced and victims of human trafficking; reflected on how their journeys do not end in their new places of residence; and on their desire to build a future, but are instead met with barriers that make it difficult to pursue a dream that unites us all: the right to a safe and dignified life.
The Conference also represented an opportunity for ‘Vincentian’ sharing to reflect on the union and collaboration within the Family itself and on how it can and should be strengthened to better respond to those in need worldwide. Through work in group sessions, the participants were able to discuss, share expertise and learn about new Vincentian projects; and to draw up a series of action points to present to the United Nations in defence of the rights of those who suffer and who are not yet able to live a dignified life.
Online participants also had the opportunity to ask questions and share their experiences, strengthening the union of the Vincentian Family beyond borders. An online participant said: ‘Thank you for bringing different Vincentian branches together for one commonality: the plight of the displaced people and homeless. My prayer is that our discussion and sharing will become more fruitful for the betterment and the common good of our people’.
The FHA intends to collect all materials of the Conference and to make them available to the Vincentian Family to promote collaboration and respond better to situations of vulnerability.
The FHA hopes the Conference has been a key moment in preparation for the World Refugee Day, an international day designated by the United Nations to honour refugees around the globe. In particular, the Conference enlightened the fact that it does not matter who, where, and when: everyone must be treated with respect and dignity because the search for security is a fundamental right, which, before being political, is human.
The FHA, therefore, invites you to reflect on the words of Pope Francis: ‘Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more’, to keep the teachings of the Conference in your hearts, prayers and actions.