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    Bishop urges diaspora to welcome newcomers

    By Noreen Bowden | March 19, 2009

    In his St Patrick’s Day message, Bishop Séamus Hegarty, Bishop of Derry and Chair of the Bishops’ Council for Emigrants, has urged the Irish Diaspora to assist those who may be leaving Ireland to escape the economic downturn.

    Here is the entire text of his comments:

    Guím beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig oraibh uilig. On this, the Feast of our National Apostle, I send warm greetings to Irish people at home and abroad and to all those who join in the celebration of our national feast, including the many immigrants to our own shores.  Saint Patrick first encountered Ireland as a migrant. Thus, it is fitting that on the Feast of our National Patron, we again seek to highlight the needs of the many Irish emigrants spread throughout the world.

    Article 2 of our Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, rightly states that ‘The Irish nation cherishes its special affinity with people of Irish ancestry living abroad who share its cultural identity and heritage.’

    The Irish Episcopal Council for Emigrants (IECE) has, for over fifty years, sought to provide pastoral support to our emigrants and in cooperation with our many apostolates, sister organisations and volunteers will continue to do so.

    As a consequence of the current downturn in the economy, increasing numbers of Irish men and women are again leaving our shores in the hope of making a new life for themselves and their families. For many, this can be a difficult journey to make and so at this time of increasing outward migration, I urge the Irish Diaspora to continue to work together in the spirit of charity and compassion to ensure the welfare of all Irish emigrants.

    Today we remember in a special way those Irish emigrants whose journey has been a difficult one. We are especially mindful of the elderly Irish in Britain and our undocumented in the United States. IECE continues to highlight the longstanding problems facing generations of Irish emigrants. The outreach services provided to emigrants, pioneered by priests, religious and supportive lay people over many years, continue to expand and are truly in keeping with Gospel values.

    On this Saint Patrick’s Day, I am reminded of the words of our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI who, in this the year of Saint Paul invites us to:

    love to the full without making any kind of distinction and without discrimination, in the conviction that any one who needs us and whom we can help is our neighbour (cf. Deus Caritas Est, n. 15). May the teaching and example of St Paul, a great and humble Apostle and a migrant, an evangelizer of peoples and cultures, spur us to understand that the exercise of charity is the culmination and synthesis of the whole of Christian life.’[1]

    It is also important on this day that we, as a society, recognise the difficulties faced by those who have come to this country seeking to make Ireland their home. I hope that they will receive the same ceád míle fáilte that we would wish for our own emigrants. The newly established Bishops’ Commission for the Care of Migrants, incorporating the Irish Episcopal Council for Emigrants and more recently the Irish Episcopal Council for Immigrants, will endeavour to support and give voice to the worries and concerns of those who wish to make Ireland their home.

    On this day too it is important to highlight an especially vulnerable group of emigrants – Irish people imprisoned overseas. The Bishops’ Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO), under the auspices of the Irish Episcopal Council for Emigrants, continues to work tirelessly on their behalf. ICPO provide support to over 420 Irish people imprisoned throughout the world. While the majority are imprisoned in Britain, others are located in Europe, the Americas, Australia and Africa. Thirty four new cases were received by ICPO in the period November 2008 to January 2009. This equates to one person every three days.

    The 2007 Report on Irish Prisoners Abroad prepared by Mr. Chris Flood provides an excellent synopsis of the many difficulties faced by Irish prisoners and their families. While considerable progress has been made, it is imperative that the remaining recommendations contained within the Flood Report are urgently implemented. The ICPO is committed to securing their introduction and will continue to work with the Department of Foreign Affairs and others to secure their implementation.

    “May the Virgin Mother, who together with her Blessed Son knew the pain of emigration and exile, help us to understand the experience, and very often the drama, of those who are compelled to live far from their homeland, and teach us to serve them in their necessities, truly accepting them as brothers and sisters, so that today’s migrations may be considered a call, albeit a mysterious one, to the Kingdom of God, which is already present in His Church, its beginning (cf. LG 9), and an instrument of Providence to further the unity of the human family and peace?. (Erga Migrantes Caritas Christi)

    [1] MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI FOR THE 95th WORLD DAY OF MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES (2009) Theme: St Paul migrant, ‘Apostle of the peoples’.

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