The desperate plight of millions of migrants and refugees fleeing their homes around the world, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is a “human drama” that should cause people to heed Pope Francis’s call and move from “a culture of indifference to a culture of solidarity,” said Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville at a Sept. 27, 2020 Mass marking the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

Bishop Dorsonville – the chairman of Committee on Migration for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – celebrated the bilingual Mass in Spanish and English at St. John Neumann Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The Mass, which was live streamed on St. John Neumann’s YouTube channel, also commemorated the feast of El Señor de los Milagros or The Lord of Miracles, a special devotion for the Peruvian community.

The Vatican designated Sept. 27, 2020 as the World Day for Migrants and Refugees. The theme chosen by Pope Francis for the 106th observance of this day, “Forced Like Jesus Christ to Flee,” reflected how today’s migrants and refugees are forced to flee from their homes, like the Holy Family did on their flight into Egypt to protect the infant Jesus.

“This is a time for us to pray for migrants and refugees, because in many ways they are the suffering face of Jesus Christ… Help us to recognize your suffering face in the lives and faces of our dear immigrant community around the world,” said Bishop Dorsonville, echoing a point that Pope Francis made in his statement for the 2020 World Day of Migrants and Refugees. The pontiff noted that, “If we can recognize him (Jesus) in those faces, we will be the ones to thank him for having been able to meet, love and serve him in them.”

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at least 79.5 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes in 2020. Among them are nearly 26 million refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18. Nearly 46 million people are internally displaced within the borders of their own countries due to armed conflict, violence, human rights violations or natural or man-made disasters.

Pope Francis in his statement noted that too often it is easy to regard the world’s migrants and refugees in terms of statistics. The pope noted, “But it is not about statistics, it is about real people!” The pope added, “The precariousness that we have come to experience as a result of this pandemic is a constant in the lives of displaced people.”

In his homily at the Mass, Bishop Dorsonville likewise emphasized the humanity of migrants and refugees, and the challenges that immigrants face adjusting to a new country, especially now during the pandemic.

The congregation at St. John Neumann that day was constituted mostly of Spanish-speaking members of the parish, including many families with small children. In keeping with safety guidelines against the spread of the coronavirus, they all wore face masks and sat in pews or chairs, either together as families or in social distances from each other.

Family members pray during the Sept. 27, 2020 bilingual Mass at St. John Neumann Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland marking the World Day of Prayer for Migrants and Refugees. (CS photos/Mihoko Owada)

“We as immigrants know how difficult it is to leave the land where we were born,” said Bishop Dorsonville, a native of Colombia who served as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington before being appointed as an auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese in 2015.

Bishop Dorsonville said it is important to recognize and value what immigrants bring to a country. “We came here to serve the culture, to help the economy, to build up the families, to bring moral values and the Christian faith,” he said.

The bishop noted that people are wearing face masks during the pandemic out of concern for their safety and the safety of their family members, friends and members of the community. He said that people should likewise pray for and open their arms to those who are suffering the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

During his homily, Bishop Dorsonville stood and spoke near a replica of the image of the Lord of the Miracles – a painting of the crucified Christ that for more than 300 years has been associated with miracles and venerated with massive processions in Lima, Peru.

Some Peruvian immigrants in the congregation, including adults and children, wore the traditional purple robes associated with that devotion, and after Communion, Bishop Dorsonville knelt and prayed before the image. In his homily, he commended the world’s suffering migrants and refugees, and this nation’s immigrants, to Señor de los Milagros.

After Communion, Bishop Dorsonville knelt and prayed before the image associated with Peruvians' devotion to the Lord of the Miracles, Senor de los Milagros. Some people at the September 27, 2020 Mass at St. John Neumann Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, as seen in the photo below, wore purple robes associated with that devotion, which for more than three centuries has inspired large processions in Lima, Peru. (CS photos/Mihoko Owada)

Bishop Dorsonville noted that too often the nation’s millions of immigrants are “voiceless and faceless” to others, yet during the pandemic, many of them have been on the front lines, serving in hospitals, working in farms, packing food, working in service industries, and constructing buildings. The country hasn’t stopped during the pandemic, because those immigrants love working and have continued to put themselves at risk, “not only for their families, but for the good of this country,” he said.

Concluding his homily, Bishop Dorsonville said, “May the Lord give us the wisdom to move from indifference to solidarity, to promote a world of justice that will bring us the peace that is so necessary to develop the future generations of this world.” 

Concelebrating the Mass was Msgr. Robert Panke, the pastor of St. John Neumann Church. That priest formerly served as the rector of the archdiocese’s Saint John Paul II Seminary, where then-Msgr. Mario Dorsonville served as an adjunct spiritual director before becoming a bishop.

During the Mass, a prayer was offered “for migrants and refugees, that they may be treated with the dignity of all God’s children.”