On Sunday 24 September, St Patrick’s Cathedral was filled with the many colours and languages of Melbourne’s vibrant migrant communities, who came together to mark Migrant and Refugee Sunday. More than 800 people gathered for the occasion, which was rich in song, dance and prayer.

Led by Monsignor Joselito Asis, Episcopal Vicar for Migrants and Refugees, the chaplains and representatives of up to 20 of Melbourne’s migrant communities had worked together to plan various elements of the celebration, which included a Marian procession and rosary prior to Mass, which was celebrated by Archbishop Peter A Comensoli. Concelebrants included Fr Khalid Marogi, National Director of the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office, and various migrant chaplains.

Festivities began in the forecourt of the cathedral grounds, where a statue of Our Lady was on display before being carried in by members of the Vietnamese community. Those gathered were then invited to pray the rosary, with each decade led by a member of the Hungarian, Swahili-speaking, Korean, Tamil and Vietnamese communities.

Members from the South Sudanese community led the music during the Mass, and the Book of the Gospels processed in accompanied by traditional song and dance by the Tongan community.

This year’s theme for Migrant and Refugee Sunday was ‘Free to leave, free to stay’. In his message for this year, Pope Francis spoke about how often migration results not from a free decision, but from persecution, war, natural disasters or dire poverty. Drawing on the words of St John Paul II, the pontiff said that part of our responsibility is safeguarding people’s right not to migrate, and this requires a commitment to cultivating conditions of peace in every nation.

In his homily, Archbishop Peter A Comensoli acknowledged the courage of those who have made Australia home—by choice or by need—calling the journey from one’s homeland to a new home ‘a life-changing experience’.

Each individual or family’s story is specific, but all the stories share some common threads,’ he said.

It is a story that involves the replacement of one world and life with another; it is a story of bridge building between the old and the new; it is a story of letting go, crossing over and taking up, of both loss and gain.

The Archbishop expressed his gratitude to those who not only have made Australia their home but continue to contribute to the life of the local Church.

‘Friendship among families and within communities is built on learning to share together in the life of each other. Each brings the gift of their life, and each is to learn to receive and invest that gift. This is how Jesus gave of his life—by investing it in the lives of those with whom he had come to live.’

‘By his Incarnation—by the pitching of his tent among us—the Son of God showed himself to be the divine immigrant, who came into the lives of God’s people.’

Victoria is one of Australia’s most culturally diverse states. According to the most recent data from the National Council of Pastoral Research, Catholics in Australia come from over 40 different countries, with the highest percentage coming from the Philippines, followed by Italy, the United Kingdom, India and New Zealand. The top five birthplaces with the highest proportions of recent arrivals are, respectively, Colombia, Iraq, the Philippines, Brazil and Argentina.

God, Father Almighty,
grant us the grace to work tirelessly
for justice, solidarity and peace,
so that all your children may enjoy
the freedom to choose whether to migrate or to stay.

Grant us the courage to denounce
all the horrors of our world,
and to combat every injustice
that mars the beauty of your children
and the harmony of our common home.

Sustain us by the power of your Spirit,
so that we can reflect your tender love
to every migrant whom you place in our path,
and to spread in hearts and in every situation
the culture of encounter and of care.

—From the Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees