“I was a stranger . . .” (Mt. 25:35)
You’ve got to hand it to the nuns, pretty much every time. Especially the ones who are just getting on with the job. So it is with the Scalabrinis or the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo. Dedicated to caring for the immigrant and the displaced, they are the ones you want looking out for you if you had to leave your home because, in some way, your life or the life of those you love depended on it.
As USCCB Director for the Church in Latin America, I oversee a $7 million annual grant program for Church-related activities across Latin America and the Caribbean. One such project is called FAMIG or Fundacion de Atencion Al Migrante based in the Archdiocese of Bogota, Colombia. Offering welcome, training, formation and fellowship for migrants arriving in Bogota from different parts of Colombia and further still, the four sisters offer a comprehensive service, mainly for women with children, of care and accompaniment for people at risk.
The Collection is supporting the project through pastoral training for the many volunteers who donate their time to further this ministry of welcome. Activities include a two-month training course in the Church’s teaching on the sacredness of all human life with an emphasis on the story of the Good Samaritan.
The program offered by FAMIG is comprehensive in that it offers a vision that embraces all elements of human development. So – one migrants have found some sense of orientation and normalcy, FAMIG offers vocational training in carpentry, electronics, hairdressing and tailoring. All programs include a small business component that offers training on how to start and manage a micro-enterprise. With generous donations from parishes around Bogota (there’s little government funding for such projects), the Foundation helps the migrants purchase the essentials to start their own business – tools, an oven, sewing machine and the like. It’s truly a resurrection experience for thousands of Colombia’s displaced people who arrive in the capitol city very bruised by the country’s on-going civil war.
Throughout the process, the Sisiters maintain the importance of pastoral care. The vision of God’s kingdom is woven through all aspects of the program (The Chapel). (Watch video on YouTube) The work of the sisters has attracted other – some from the United States. Katy and Roxy both volunteered to work in FAMIG for two months this summer, as part of the outreach program of the Campus Ministry in DePaul University.
I met them during my visit. As they were taking me around, a Peruvian woman and her young son were preparing to settle in and rest for the night after a long trip from Venezuela before making her way back to Peru.
The new encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI devotes and entire section to modern problem of migration which, he says, is “a social phenomenon of epoch-making proportions.” (no. 62). The Pope identifies the multifacted problems associated with migration saying “This is a striking phenomenon because of the sheer numbers of people involved, the social, economic, political, cultural and religious problems it raises, and the dramatic challenges it poses to nations and the international community.” The Sisters at FAMIG are addressing all the problems the Pope raises and in so doing are offering a vision of human devlopment that is integral – all aspects of the person.
The Pope also notes: “No country can be expected to address today’s problems of migration by itself. We are all witnesses of the burden of suffering, the dislocation and the aspirations that accompany the flow of migrants.” Through the support given by the USCCB Collection for the Church in Latin America, Colombia, the Scalabrini sisters and most importantly the migrants welcomed into FAMIG do not have to face these problems alone.