Putting Down Roots in New Soil
Most migrants leave the home they have known, under economic or social pressure, to escape war or religious persecution.
One of my earliest memories of autumn in my native Co. Sligo on the rugged Atlantic seaboard of Ireland’s north-west, was of the swallows congregating on the electric cables outside our family home. They were there, hundreds of them, for days on end. Suddenly, they were gone. Migratory birds, prophets of the northern winter, when they returned after six months in warmer climes, were heralds of the new summer.
Migration is a feature of life throughout the natural world. Swallows, Canada geese, sharks and other great creatures of the sea, cross great distances, usually coming and going in a repetitive cycle that began in the mists of time. Migration has shaped human history too. Neanderthal man found his way to the Arctic wastes of Norway, the Celts came from Phoenicia to Ireland, the Hebrews fled from slavery in Egypt to the ‘promised land’ of Canaan, while the Saxons swarmed westwards into Britain. From all over the world people have crossed the Atlantic or the Pacific oceans to the Americas. Pope Francis is the son of migrants who left Piedmont for Argentina in the early part of the 20th century. John F. Kennedy, whose ancestors came from Co. Wexford, entitled the book he wrote about the peoples of his native United States, A Nation of Emigrants.
It came as no surprise, given his own family history, that the plight of the migrants huddled on the rocky shores of Lampedusa, a scene of misery and despair for so many who fled North Africa or the Middle East in the hope of finding refuge and the chance of a better life in Europe, should have moved Pope Francis in a particular way. The Pope visited Lampedusa in July. The tragic drowning of so many migrants on Thursday 2 October cast a long shadow over the Pope’s visit to Assisi on his patronal feast and became the central preoccupation of his pilgrimage.
The bishops of COMECE are devoting their autumn Plenary meeting to the subject of migration: migration as a fact of life, migration as a central issue of public policy, as a problem, as a challenge and, as adherents to the Christian faith which more than any other world religion owes its universal presence to the migration of peoples, as opportunity.
It is a matter of record that many dying Catholic parishes in western Europe have taken on a new lease of life through the arrival of migrant groups from overseas who have revitalised the faith of the home communities.
As a child, I did wonder where the swallows considered home: was it the nest under the eaves of the O’Neill farmhouse at the foot of Knocknarea where they spent our summer, or was it under the eaves of a farmstead 5000 kilometres away in the shadow of Cape Mountain? The idea of home is key. Most migrants leave the home they have known, under economic or social pressure, to escape war or religious persecution, and often with heavy hearts, nurturing the dream of making a new life for themselves and their families, and above all finding a new home.
The challenge to us, for whom Europe is already our home, is to make sure it can become a home for others as well. Continue, the author of the letter to the Hebrews advised, to love each other like brothers, and remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this, some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13, 1).
Patrick H. Daly
General Secretary, COMECE