Written by Mary McCusker
In 2000, the United Nations officially designated June 20 of each year to be celebrated as World Refugee Day. The date marks the 50th anniversary of the implementation of the 1951 Refugee Convention — a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines who is a refugee, and sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.
While 2018 marks the 17th year of this UN designation, the Catholic Church has had an even longer tradition of supporting the rights and human dignity of all persons, including refugees, who by definition are displaced persons worldwide who have been forced to flee their homes due to war, conflict and persecution.
For decades, the church — especially through Catholic Charities — has served as a social service, legal and educational network to help these newcomers to this country resettle and adapt to their new homes.
This year in the Camden Diocese, World Refugee Day will be celebrated on Saturday, June 23, at the Catholic Community of Christ our Light Parish from 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. The seventh annual celebration honors the strength and courage of the hundreds of refugee men, women, and children from all over the world who have been resettled in South Jersey through Catholic Charities over the years.
This year the event falls during the two-year “Share the Journey” campaign, launched in September 2017 by Pope Francis worldwide, and by Bishop Dennis Sullivan locally. The initiative calls for Catholics and all people of good will to “journey” in solidarity with migrants and refugees, recognizing both their vulnerability and the Christian call to welcome them.
Explained Samantha Astley, an Americorps VISTA volunteer for Catholic Charities who helped organize World Refugee Day this year and in years past, “The whole day is about interaction and encounter. We have refugee families, parishioners, youth groups, volunteers — people of all religions and backgrounds — coming together, playing games, enjoying food, making connections through commonalities, and forgetting about the pressures of every day life.”
She reflected on her first year participating in World Refugee Day, smiling, “I remember watching a young refugee who had just recently arrived. He hadn’t learned English yet, but he kicked a soccer ball to me, and a game immediately started. You don’t need to even speak the same language when it comes to sports and games.”
In addition to both indoor and outdoor sports and other “traditional” American games like corn hole and can jam, there will be presentations by Catholic Charities refugee staff, awards given out to exemplary refugees in the community, music and food.
People of all ages are invited to join the day. The event will take place at the Catholic Community of Christ Our Light Parish (402 Kings Highway N., Cherry Hill) from 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. For questions or additional information, contact Sam Astley at Samantha.Astley@camdendiocese.org.