MANILA, Sept. 28. 2017–The Catholic Church in the Philippines has invoked the historical concept of sanctuary, opening its doors to refugees who left behind armed conflicts and persecution to find a safer home.
Scalabrinian Fr. Resty Ogsimer, executive secretary of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, said that the local Church, albeit quietly, has been helping a number of refugees over the last two years.
To date, he said that there about 600 refugees and asylum seekers in the country and majority of them are from Iran, Syria, Pakistan and Somalia.
“Right now, more than 30 refugees, mostly from Pakistan, are being cared for by the Church,” Ogsimer said.
But the priest said taking care of the refugees pose a unique set of challenges for the Church, including reducing the stigma of society towards them.
For him, confronting stigma is one of the keys to stopping people’s indifference to refugees.
“When I go around different parishes, they always ask me ‘are you sure that these people are safe and not terrorists?’ In other words, there is stigma attached to the refugees that we have here,” Ogsimer said.
He assured that the Church is working closely with the government which makes sure that policies and relevant conditions are met by the refugees.
“In other words, the Justice department has already screened them and they just match the refugees with faith-based organizations that can provide their needs,” he said.
The priest also said that the cost of integrating refugees remains one of the major challenges faced by the Church.
From providing shelter, food, health services and other basic needs to sending their children to school proves that handling refugees “is not an easy job”.
“But since this is the challenge of Pope Francis, we decided here in the Philippines to do our best in propagating the culture of welcome and compassion to strangers,” the CBCP official added.
“The fundamental role of the Church when it comes to migrants and refugees is always to show the culture of welcome and compassion,” he said.
Ogsimer and other church officials on Wednesday led an event at the Adamson University in solidarity with Pope Francis who opened the “Share the Journey” migration campaign at the Vatican.
An initiative of Caritas Internationalis headed by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, the two-year campaign encourages the need to build relationship between migrants, refugees and local communities.
“Share the Journey is actually to encourage each of us to open our hearts and eyes and to be vigilant in promoting a culture of compassion among us, the foreigners and strangers that we will encounter,” Ogsimer said.
In Rome, Cardinal Tagle said that the Church is called to exercise the hospitality of God towards migrants and refugees.
“If we bond with refugees and migrants, we will break down the barriers with which some are trying to separate us. The campaign reaches out to recognize, restore and share our common humanity,” he said. (Roy Lagarde / CBCPNews)