Sarah Hagger-Holt works in CAFOD’s campaigns team.
Every migrant or refugee’s journey begins with ‘what if?’s.
What if I never make it? What if I’m turned back? What if I never see my home or my family again? What if where I’m going is worse than where I’ve come from?
Yet, it is not just other people who are migrants, travellers, makers of journeys. We all have our own significant journeys, and our own stories of displacement, change or transition.
Last week, I spent the day with a group reflecting on Laudato Si’ and on our response. We began by sharing our own stories of journeys made and new turns taken.
Several people spoke of leaving home and family in their teens or early twenties to live and work overseas, of becoming adults in countries they knew little about, and dealing with situations for which they were totally unprepared.
Others talked of significant journeys where they explored vocations, met husbands or wives, forged new lives or careers, or discovered something previously unknown about themselves.
It’s hardly surprising to hear such stories. Never before has there been such large-scale movement of people. Holidays, pilgrimages, study, work. Marriages and friendships formed between people of different continents and cultures.
Many of us only exist because of such migration. Two generations ago, my grandmother came from Egypt, my grandfather’s family from Eastern Europe – they met in London.
What journeys have you made? What journeys have made you?
After sharing our stories, we took part in a simple pilgrimage outside in the sun. We stopped seven times to listen, reflect and pray for refugees and migrants, and their dangerous, unchosen journeys.
Download our Year of Mercy pilgrimage resources to take part in a pilgrimage with a parish, school or group
We carried a Lampedusa cross with us. This cross – crafted from the wreckage of boats bringing migrants to the Italian island of Lampedusa – is a stark reminder that many people do not arrive safely. Many journeys end in fear and death.
These crosses have been made as an act of solidarity and remembrance. A way of marking the suffering and offering hope.
I found that holding the cross – knowing how it was made and how far it had travelled – an intensely moving, spiritual experience.
This is a cross which calls us to listen, and challenges us to ask our own ‘what if?’ questions.
What if we were people who stopped seeing migration as a problem to be solved, but an opportunity to be grasped? As Pope Francis says “migrants and refugees do not present a problem to be solved … but an occasion Providence gives us to help build a more just society.”
What if we were people who offered genuine welcome, in our hearts, our words and our actions?
What if we were people who recognised the face of Jesus in each migrant, each refugee, each one of our fellow human beings.