By Danna Johnson
VARDAMAN – National Migration Week 2017 was a great opportunity to bring people together. The Migrant Support Center of Catholic Charities, Tupelo, St. James Parish, and the Family Life Center in Vardaman, joined efforts to create a culture of encounter, following the theme Pope Francis inspired for the week.
The observance started at St. James with an Epiphany celebration followed by the documentary “The Invisibles.” More than 100 people attended. Participants were invited to tell their stories and share challenges as immigrants in Mississippi. The conclusion of this first-day event was that “migration is an act of hope.”
The following days, Amelia McGowan, immigration lawyer for Catholic Charities, and director of the Migrant Support Center, offered workshops and free legal clinics in the communities of Corinth, Ripley and Vardaman. Many families traveled from different parts of the deanery to work with her.
Pontotoc St. Christopher Parish celebrated Mass commemorating National Migration Week. Pastor Father Tim Murphy concelebrated with Father Octavio Escovar, visiting from Mexico. He invited all to reflect on Psalm 104: “The Lord remembers his covenants forever.”
On Friday, January 13, the night of cultural encounter was hosted in Vardaman. Nancy Sanchez, cultural specialist for the Migrant Support Center and a team of volunteers of Family Life Center made this first-ever gathering possible. There were demonstrations, food and dancing from various countries including Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, Colombia and India.
Liza May and Sandra Lucious, both natives of Vardaman, opened the night with “Amazing Grace” and gave a presentation of their cultures: Southern and Vardaman.
“This is something to build on” said Northeast Catholic Charities Board president. Nearly 150 people of different cultures in Northeast Mississippi gathered under one roof to celebrate that what we have in common is our diversity.
Sister Gabriela Ramirez from Catholic Charities of Birmingham, Ala., closed the week with a presentation asking the question: Can we develop an inclusive culture?
“This was a powerful topic for awareness and education, and we will find the opportunity to do it again in this year,” said Dorothy Balser, director of community and social outreach ministries for Catholic Charities. Sister Ramirez closed her program by all to pray: “Father, that all of them may be one, as we are one” (Jn. 17, 21).
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops celebrates National Migration Week every January to honor those who leave their homes seeking better lives.
(Danna Johnson is the head of the Family Life Center in Vardaman.)