The plight of migrants and refugees has been a constant and urgent priority for Pope Francis. On his first trip outside of Rome to the Island of Lampedusa, a waystation for refugees in the Mediterranean, he spoke of the many who have drowned: “We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion . . . the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!”
In this collection of his writings and sermons, Pope Francis frequently reminds us that Jesus and his parents were refugees in Egypt. He calls on everyone to understand the root causes of the mass movement of people, and to act with compassion and solidarity in response to their sufferings, remembering Jesus’s words: “What you have done to the least of my brothers, you have done to me.”
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Let us continue to reflect on the corporal works of mercy, which the Lord Jesus gave us in order to keep our faith ever alive and dynamic. These works, indeed, show that Christians are not weary and idle as they await the final encounter with the Lord but each day go to meet him, recognizing his face in those of the many people who ask for help. Today let us concentrate on these words of Jesus: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me” (Mt 25:35-36). In our time, charitable action regarding foreigners is more relevant than ever. The economic crisis, armed conflicts, and climate change have forced many people to emigrate. However, migration is not a new phenomenon; it is part of the history of humanity.
The Bible offers us many concrete examples of migration. Suffice it to think of Abraham. God’s call spurred him to leave his country in order to go to another: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen 12:1). It was so also for the people of Israel, who from Egypt where they had been slaves, went marching in the desert for forty years until they reached the land promised by God. The Holy Family itself-Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus-were forced to emigrate in order to escape Herod’s threat: Joseph “rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod” (Mt 2:14-15). The history of humanity is a history of migrations: throughout our entire world, there is no people that have not known the migratory phenomenon.
The commitment of Christians in this field is as urgent today as it was in the past. Looking only at the last century, we recall the splendid figure of Saint Frances Cabrini, who, along with her companions, dedicated her life to immigrants to the United States of America. Today too we need these witnesses so that mercy may reach the many who are in need. It is a commitment that involves everyone, without exception. We all, dioceses, parishes, institutes of consecrated life, associations and movements, and individual Christians, are called to welcome our brothers and sisters who are fleeing from war, from hunger, from violence and from inhuman living conditions. All together we are a great supportive force for those who have lost their homelands, families, work and dignity.
Several days ago, a little story unfolded in the city. There was a refugee who was looking for a street and a lady approached him and said: “Are you looking for something?” That refugee had no shoes, and he said: “I would like to go to Saint Peter’s to enter the Holy Door.” And the lady thought: “But he has no shoes, how will he manage to walk there?” So she called a taxi. But the migrant, that refugee, had a disagreeable odor and the taxi driver at first didn’t want him to get in the car, but in the end he relented. And the lady, sitting next to the refugee during the ride, asked him a little about his history as a migrant: it took ten minutes to get here to St. Peter’s. This man told his story of suffering, of war, of hunger because he had fled from his homeland in order to migrate. When they arrived at their destination, the lady opened her purse to pay the taxi driver-who at first had not wanted this immigrant in his cab because he smelled-told her: “No, ma’am, I should be paying you because you made me listen to a story that has changed my heart.” This lady understood what a migrant’s pain is, because she was of Armenian descent and knew the suffering of her people.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us not fall into the trap of closing in on ourselves, indifferent to the needs of brothers and sisters and concerned only with our own interests. It is precisely in the measure to which we open ourselves to others that life becomes fruitful, society regains peace, and people recover their full dignity. Do not forget that lady, do not forget that migrant who had a disagreeable odor, and do not forget that driver whose spirit was changed by the immigrant.
c 2018 Orbis Books. Used with permission.