The COVID-19 pandemic may be one of the most serious international problems, but it is not the only humanitarian crisis stealing livelihoods and taking lives across the globe.

In his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees Sept. 27, Archbishop J. Michael Miller zeroed in on the immense challenges faced by 51 million “forgotten men, women, and children who have been forced to migrate within their own national boundaries.”

The archbishop said, “Internally displaced persons have a disadvantage, a severe disadvantage” to refugees, even though they are often displaced for the same reasons, such as armed conflicts, natural disasters, or an inability to find work, all of which are being aggravated by the pandemic.

“They are excluded from the protections, such as they are, provided for them by international refugee law. Those protections do not come into force until a person crosses an internationally recognized border in search of safety and protection. Internally displaced persons do not and cannot make that move. They are trapped within their countries of origin.”

He said the Church has a responsibility to accompany, advocate for, and support migrants and internally displaced people.

“Is this a problem only for ‘other countries, perhaps those in the global South? … It seems to me that, in fact, within a kilometre of our cathedral where we are right now, if not closer, there are men and women and a tragic number of young people who we can call, without altering the definition very much, ‘internally displaced persons.’”

Although not displaced by war or natural disaster, people who are homeless or who have been trafficked into cities for sexual exploitation are in a sense “internally displaced,” he said.

It is the job of the local church, especially one as multicultural as the Archdiocese of Vancouver, to reach out and support them in meaningful ways.

“The Church in Vancouver is primarily and indeed proudly a Church of migrants and refugees. This fact alone should spur us on with great diligence to welcome newcomers, to be advocates for their rights, and to promote their welfare by helping them to make their own contributions to solving the problems that beset them.”

Archbishop Miller thanked volunteers in the archdiocese’s Anti Human Trafficking Committee and those who serve the homeless and poor through the Catholic Charities Men’s Hostel and The Door is Open.

He added he hopes to see a program developed that allows Catholics to sponsor people “internally displaced” in Vancouver as one might sponsor a child overseas.

“Vancouverites are extraordinarily generous in sponsoring children… such a program could be well developed in our own city.”

Archbishop Miller celebrated Mass for World Day of Migrants and Refugees with a small group of people at Holy Rosary Cathedral Sept. 27. More than 800 people watched the Mass online within two days of it airing on Facebook and YouTube.

The World Day of Migrants and Refugees has been celebrated annually in Vancouver for only nine years, but globally for 106. In his message for the 2020 celebration, Pope Francis said the COVID-19 pandemic should not cause us to forget other crises around the world.

He called the plight of internally displaced persons an “often unseen tragedy” that the pandemic “has only exacerbated” and “has relegated to the bottom of national political agendas those urgent international efforts essential to saving lives.”

“But,” he added, “this is not a time for forgetfulness.”

When Jesus fled into Egypt with his family, he experienced “the tragic fate of the displaced and refugees, which is marked by fear, uncertainty, and unease,” the Pope said.

Today, millions of families can identify with this reality, and in each of their faces, we should see the face of Jesus and “meet, love, and serve him in them.”

The annual Mass is also offered for the intentions of refugees around the world.

“It feels like we were saved from the jaws of death,” said Deacon Paulos Teckle, the head of pastoral care for the Eritrean community in the archdiocese, reading a message from a 10-member family of refugees who landed in Canada just before Christmas last year.

Due to safety concerns, their names and country of origin were not identified.

“My family and I prayed for 13 years as refugees. Along the way we lost hope. We got worried and faint of heart. Our faith was tested. The resettlement to Canada was a living proof that we really serve a living God and that he is always there to answer our problems.”

In the last year, 11 parishes in the archdiocese’s Refugee Sponsorship program helped 122 refugees from Africa and Middle East begin new lives in the Lower Mainland.