Refugee crisis in Europe: Doing what is needed to be done

Justice & Peace

“The deep sense of appreciation and acknowledgment I get from the refugees I work with, keep me going and encourage me to continue.”

“So far all of us who work with the refugees and migrants are on salaries. Does this work costs us or we gain?”

Adapted from the article of Father Patrick Kodom, SVD

In one occasion Fr. Patrick Kodom SVD convincingly dropped this jaw-breaking statement:
“Our duty as SVDs in the Migrants and Refugees’ Crisis is that we should help the ones who do not have anybody to help them. Unfortunately, because of European Laws refugees in Austria were deported back to Italy and because they cannot be registered Caritas or any other organization cannot help them. We should be able to help these people, and I felt called to beg out from my traditional apostolate and do what is needed to be done.”

Reaching out to those who are marginalized and do not have anyone to turn to is nothing new to Patrick. For many years he has been committed to the pastoral care of prisoners in Vienna most especially those who have entered illegally in the country, and among them are Africans. Patrick’s primary concern is to strengthen these people in their dignity and self-worth, especially in the name of God, even if they have to be deported from Austria. His mission is clear, “advocating for the prisoners”.

But Patrick is openly venting his willingness to leave behind an institutionalized apostolate to work and dedicate his time for the refugees. He has reasons. For the first time in world history the number of people on the move, migrants and refugees has exceeded the 60 million mark. According to Patrick this crisis is also very well felt in Austria. This small country in Central Europe has had its share of the biggest human movement after the Second World War.

The Catholic Church has responded positively to the refugee crisis by being the voice of the Voiceless. The rate at which the number of volunteers has increased the last months and the engagement of Caritas Austria has doubled. This is a sign that people are ready to help alleviate the sufferings of the displaced. With that said, it has also to be noted that there is a considerable amount of fear in the general public as regards the acceptance of refugees. This was reflected in the Presidential campaign and election which show all the time how the Anti Migrants and Refugees party is gaining political weight. People, however, need to change their attitudes towards foreigners and not to equate the migrants and refugees with criminals and terrorists.

“As Divine Word Missionaries in Austria we are doing our best to accommodate many refugees in our Mission House of St. Gabriel”, quips Patrick. A few confreres are also set apart to work with the refugees and migrants. But looking at our Congregation's history, we need to do more and do better in this area. Politely Patrick said, “So far all of us who work with the refugees and migrants are on salaries. Does this work costs us or we gain? For Patrick, this situation requires an evaluation.

The biggest challenge that Patrick personally faces in his work with the migrants and refugees is his helplessness. In his own words Patrick describes what he feels, “At the face of so much pain and torment of traumatized families with small children and people having continuous sleepless nights and so on, I keep asking myself what can I offer this people, and yet the deep sense of appreciation and acknowledgement I get from the refugees I work with, keep me going and encourage me to continue. My engagement with migrants and refugees which are basically just being there for them and listening to them, making them feel respected and welcome, is my Widow's mite in this vast area of uncertainty.”

The SVD European Zone and the Central European Province (EUC) give their verbal and moral support to Patrick’s work, but he expects real commitments for the people we work with, to give them more and not to gain from them. Patrick firmly believes that as a Congregation we can do better with our historical experience and expertise to attract others to come and work with us and not us always wanting to work with others.

Patrick’s personal call of working with refugees and migrants means a constant reflection on the Ethics of Compassion. And this is also an invitation for all Divine Word Missionaries. Most of us are migrants working outside our home countries and so we should be in a better position to understand the situation of the migrants and refugees for that is who we are.

Last October 14 Pope Francis told some German pilgrims, 'You cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian.' Pope Francis said he does not like "the contradiction of those who want to defend Christianity in the West, and, on the other hand, are against refugees and other religions." You cannot be a Christian without practicing the Beatitudes. You cannot be a Christian without doing what Jesus teaches us in Matthew 25," which is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger. "It's hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help," he said. "

Definitely, our confrere Patrick is far from falling to hypocrisy. As Divine Word Missionaries our historical experience and commitment to the marginalized traces back from our Founder’s concern to the less privileged. There is a privileged position for a unique mission in Europe, and like Patrick and so many others, they have chosen the better part.