FATHER John Kunnathumadappillil drew on his first experience of encountering a “strange country, strange people and strange means of transport” in helping his congregation reflect on the importance of Migrant and Refugee Sunday recently.
“I did not know what to do and I was nearly lost,” Fr Kunnathumadappillil said in his homily at Mass in Sacred Heart Cathedral, Townsville.
The Cranbrook parish priest was remembering back to 1996 when he made his first overseas journey.
“I went to London for my higher studies in English Literature,” he said.
“That was my first journey outside my country, my first journey in a plane and that too, all alone.
“From Heathrow airport I had to travel by (the London Underground network) Tube to Kensington where accommodation was arranged for me.”
When he thought he was lost “a lady who was from Belfast in Northern Ireland came to me and offered help”.
“She herself bought a train ticket for me and got me into the Tube to Kensington.
“She got my address and used to write to me very often and visited me in London many times.
“Even after nearly 20 years we are very good friends and we keep in touch with each other.
“For me she was the face of Christ and feel urged to believe that she regarded it her Christian obligation to care for others and to show mercy to them.”
Fr Kunnathumadappillil said his friend offered an example for all to follow.
He said Pope Francis in the Jubilee Year of Mercy “challenges us to be the face of Mercy to the migrants and refugees, people suffering from starvation, violence and shipwreck following the example of Christ the Good Shepherd who cares for his flock and is particularly concerned for the needs of the sheep who are wounded, weary or ill”.
“As we know, today more than ever migration is growing worldwide and we hear everyday heart-rending stories of people fleeing their own homes to escape violence, war and starvation,” Fr Kunnathumadappillil said.
“Our challenge today is to hear in their cry for help the voice of Jesus himself who says: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock’ and to open the door of our heart in welcome.
“Our challenge is to proclaim in our words and deeds that migrants are our brothers and sisters and that it is our responsibility to be their keepers wherever they live …
“The words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mathew, ‘Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ should linger in our ears always.”
Fr Kunnathumadappillil said it was often “the simplest of things that can make the biggest of differences for the migrants and refugees in our community – instead of turning our face away, a simple smile to mean that I welcome you and I respect you; and instead of avoiding them, a short conversation asking how you are and if everything is okay, to mean that I am concerned about you”.
“In other words, (it is) doing something little but beautiful which will have a tremendous effect on the needy and the lonely,” he said.
“This is the beginning of encounter and it is from here we move forward together in solidarity, exchanging stories of each other, giving to and receiving from the other and contributing together to the welfare of the community.
“We need to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but as an opportunity.
“I think this should be the end result of our Migrant and Refugee Sunday celebration this year.”