By David Lichter
We appreciate very much the articles in this issue of Vision that explore a variety of topics on our immigrant/refugee population. This is not our usual spiritual care population, nor is it provided in our usual ministry settings.
When our Raskob Partners in Pastoral Care Planning met in October 2016, we focused mainly on the usual settings where pastoral care might be needed, such as healthcare, elder care, home, and prisons. However, the needs of migrants, immigrants, and refugees soon became the focus of our attention. As Elisabeth Roman, president of the National Catholic Council for Hispanic Ministry, and a member of our Partners in Planning, said, “What can we come up with to connect with this population in this time of crisis?”
We realized that the social climate has gone from care for immigrants to care for people in trauma. People need hope to move forward, and to be affirmed in personal dignity. How do we touch this population in the course of other ministries where they can be found and encountered? How do we bring forth sensitivity and active listening to support a person’s spiritual journey to find their inner peace in spite of uncertainty and anxiety?
But when we sought to identify the necessary pastoral care competencies for working with these populations, we found the job was expansive and complicated. Why? As our meeting notes commented, “each of these populations is comprised of multiple nationalities with their own customs, language and culture. They can be of any faith or no faith, often not Christian. They can look like you and me. They might be single, family, family group, any age and either gender. They fall within varied social support networks.” We observed that the single young male is the most vulnerable, because he often falls outside any supportive social/family structure. He often disappears until he is caught up in some other system.
We realized that when services are sought, they are already in crisis mode, and need hope, especially when trying to navigate the unfamiliar, and often hostile, mainline culture(s) marked by a creeping nationalism, superiority and self-righteousness that feeds fear and anxiety.
When we tried to identify competencies, we agreed that because encounters with these populations are within many of the established ministries of healthcare, long term/elder care, corrections and diocesan ministry, the skills needed are present within those ministries, with an extended sensitivity to the critical needs of the displaced person (culture, custom, language, faith, etc.). However, we took special note of: the ability to listen with a particular understanding and acceptance of differences; exceptional compassion, empathy and reassurance for their personal and family concerns; heightened respect of person and their human value; providing reassurance and forgiveness; and assessment of spiritual distress.
While we do not have CPE programs in ICE detention centers to help us discover new ways of serving, we do know that physical needs often precede spiritual needs. Our pastoral care ministry becomes creative and extemporaneous – attempting to match resources to need.
This is part of our continuing the healing ministry in the name of the Church. I appreciate those who contributed to this issue, and I pray that it stirs each of us to be more alert to these often hidden, but holy populations.