by ROWENA OREJANA
Stronger and more active religious support is needed for refugees who are coming into New Zealand, says missionary priest, Fr Don Hornsey, SSC.
Fr Hornsey, who served as a missionary in South America for 40 years, is accompanying Columbian refugees in Lower Hutt and Porirua. He said the first thing the refugees, particularly Catholic ones, note when they arrive is the lack of external social signs of the faith.
“In South America, church bells ring on Sundays. The church is usually on the main plaza. During feasts, there are processions around the town of statues. A petrol station might be called the Petrol Station of the Immaculate Conception or a hardware shop called Hardware shop of St Joseph. And people arriving here miss that. They find it too secular,” he said.
Church activities are community activities for Columbians, Fr Hornsey said. “That’s why I think the Church has a role to play in offering people religious support at the start, which, as I said, also brings people together for social support.”
At Christmas the Colombians had a nine-day novena held in a different house each night. About 60 people attended. “The religious part is very strong. Villancicos, Christmas carols, are very rowdy and animated, but it was also a social event to get together,” he said. This makes, he said, Sunday Mass in Spanish important. There is already one in Lower Hutt and one is needed in Porirua.
The greatest difficulty the refugees have is the language.
Fr Hornsey said it is especially difficult for older refugees to master the language, which they need to do to get jobs and gain economic stability.
“Many work in what they call cleaning jobs either in houses or in schools. This is also counterproductive in the sense that often they are working alone, so there’s no one to speak English to,” he said.
Columbians seek refuge in countries like New Zealand because of a civil war that has been going on for more than 60 years.
Often called the longest civil war in the world, it is a four-faction civil war composed of drug cartels, left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries and government forces.
The war has displaced at least five million people. “In many cases, the mother arrives alone because sometimes her husband had been killed by the 60-year civil war,” Fr Hornsey said.
“One night, we were reflecting on Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth and how she said, ‘God has done great things for me his humble servant’, and the question was: What was the great thing that God had done for us in our lives? And they all said being able to come to New Zealand in this peaceful country,” he said.
Fr Hornsey reflected that, as Syrian refugees start arriving, New Zealanders should open themselves to people of other cultures. “Let us be open to the Syrians and all other people because it makes New Zealand much more culturally enriched,” he said.