Vatican regional rep describes visit as ‘a moving experience’
Fr Robert Stark SSS, the Vatican’s regional Coordinator—North America, Mexico, Central America, Caribbean, Migrants and Refugee Section has described his four-day visit to Trinidad December 16–21 as “a moving experience”.
Addressing a media conference at Archbishop’s House on December 20, Fr Stark said, he was “privileged” to listen, and see “the way people here are animated by their faith and by the gospel, both migrants and refugees and victims of human trafficking and people in parishes and ecclesial communities”. Archbishop Jason Gordon chaired the briefing. Also present were chair of the Archdiocesan Ministry to Migrants and Refugees (AMMR), and the Catholic Commission for Social Justice, Leela Ramdeen; AMMR Coordinator Simone Francois-Whittier; Living Water Community co-foundress Rhonda Maingot, and Rochelle Nakhid, coordinator of LWC’s Ministry for Migrants and Refugees.
Fr Stark’s job took him from Barbados to Guam, Canada to Panama. He said, “Pope Francis insists one of the things we have to do as Church is to listen, listen to the experiences of migrants and refugees and victims of human trafficking and those who live and work with them daily to understand how we are called to accompany them so we can indeed walk this journey in a way that lives out the gospel values”.
Through the “visionary leadership” of Archbishop Gordon and the Apostolic Nuncio he commented that the whole Church had taken the mission to heart.
Fr Stark visited Carenage, Arima, Mayaro and Penal as well as the Living Water Community. He said parishes and ecclesial communities are an important part of what Pope Francis has called Church to do, “literally embody these words: Welcoming, protecting, promoting, integrating migrants and refugees…”
This country’s appreciation for diversity is a “strength” which Church has tapped into to bring people together. “The Church’s celebration of diversity often in ritual and in culture is a resource and almost a safe haven for people on the move…we were talking about the Parang with the migrants and they just lit up…that is not something superficial, that is something really strong that a society can build on.”
Fr Stark noted the different “options” catering for migrants in parishes and the way the leadership, clergy and lay people came together to call forth gifts. He mentioned persons using the gift of their experience to help negotiate fair rents and salaries. He said this was their way of living out the verb ‘Protect’, and the churches had welcomed migrants and offered them an opportunity to share their gifts such as music.
Fr Stark said during a visit to the Living Water Community that morning he saw how traumatised migrants were embraced with the gospel values. He mentioned also young people excited to use the social media platform WhatsApp to respond to migrants’ needs for housing, employment or medical services.
Fr Stark commended the collaboration between Church and State, which he said was a product of many years of hard work and trust had been built: “Walking together to solve issues and trying and also to lift up the positive opportunities that migration brings. It is not just a challenge but an opportunity.”
Fr Stark said the Church believed in the principle of subsidiarity and the local Church coming up with the solutions; the role of the Universal Church was to walk with them.
In a brief interview with Catholic News Fr Stark said the collaboration between different entities of Church —ecclesial community and parishes on the sharing of resources was “remarkable”. He elaborated, “their negotiation of that about how to share the resources, struggling with the different requests about who’s going to get the resources or not but more importantly about the different gifts they have; parishes can do what ecclesial communities can’t quite do and vice versa.”
He said what was most important was for the migrants and refugees themselves having a sense that they are connected here. “Maybe it’s because of the season, the Parang, they know the music…a relationship I’ve seen in the United States but here there’s a reciprocity that is already taking place.”
Fr Stark met many locals with Venezuelan family and ancestry. “That reminds us how interconnected we are, and I think that buffers a bit of the shock whenever you have to leave home…” he said.