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The Church in Jaffa, a refuge for migrants

The Church in Jaffa, a refuge for migrants

 Article-messe-migrants-300x199JAFFA – On the occasion of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, a Mass was celebrated on Saturday, January 18, 2014 in the parish of St. Anthony in Jaffa with the many migrant communities. The Coordination of the Pastoral among Migrants established by the Latin Patriarchate is directed by Patriarchal Vicar, Fr. David Neuhaus, SJ. 

Gathering the faithful from at least thirteen or fourteen countries to celebrate a Mass is not common in Israel. “Look around you,” stated Father David Neuhaus during his homily.  “Look at the brothers and sisters the Lord has given us, in their diversity of origin and culture, language and color  – Filipinos, Indians, Eritreans and Ethiopians, Sri Lankans, Romanians, Nigerians, Latin Americans, Poles, Russians, Ghanaians, Lebanese, Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians and many others!”

This diversity of nationalities participating in a Mass shows the importance of immigration that the Israeli government is facing. There are nearly 53,000 asylum seekers in the country, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, among them 40,000 are Christians.  And there are over 200,000 migrant workers as well.

In highlighting this gathering, the selected songs come from around the world. The universal prayer was read in eight different languages.  Readings have been chosen for the occasion, the Gospel was about the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, recognizing the persecution of infants by Herod.  A significant reality for migrants who have left everything, often risking their lives, live in difficult conditions  and often precarious situations after having arrived in Israel.

At the end of the Mass, four communities presented their cultural traditions through songs and dances.

The migrant’s daily concern is to be able to work legally and earn money to support the family. But this Mass was an opportunity to rejoice.   “We come to celebrate, we  pray and we proclaim our faith,” recalled Father Neuhaus.  “We want to be witnesses that this celebration is a great joy.  In our world, outside the Church , the reaction to the arrival of migrants is not always a celebration. Often their arrival rather provokes reactions of suspicion and hostility.”

The joy of believing

If this mass was exceptional in bringing together a large number of migrants from many countries, it is nonetheless a further testimony to the importance of the migrant communities committed to the Christian faith.  Surrounded by Sisters from different congregations and priests from the various countries of origin of the migrants, the communities come together regularly.  In Tel Aviv, the Filipino community has a chapel in a rented building that can accommodate 220-for Mass.  On  Saturdays, the weekly day off for a great number of migrants, at least four Masses are celebrated. The chapel is filled to capacity for every Mass attended by Filipinos.  Other communities – Indian, Sri Lankan, African, etc.  also use the place for their worship gatherings in their varied rites and rituals.

“What is most important is to help them spiritually, so that they keep the faith,” expressed a Sister of St. Paul of Chartres from the Philippines. “These people need to find courage and hope in their lives, it is by faith that they persevere and succeed. They also need a family.  Many of these people are hurt, discouraged, and frustrated.  They have left their families.  The Church must be a family that supports them to heal.”

A wonderful example of this need to believe is their willingness and commitment to contribute and provide for the 32,000 NIS (6,400 Euros) monthly rent for the chapel, where they can continue to celebrate, pray and proclaim their faith in the joy of being one big family.

Pierre Loup de Raucourt

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