This Sunday marks the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
Pope Francis delivered his message for 2018’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees back last summer. I didn’t notice the announcement; the news cycles were filled with other pressing stories, many of them frightening enough to claim all my attention. And I honestly didn’t realize that the Church has been observing this day since 1914.
Most of the time, in the face of all the needs in the world today, I feel overwhelmed. The hope is, of course, that the Church can have a bigger voice, a greater presence, than I can alone. And that’s what Pope Francis’ message for this World Day of Migrants and Refugees calls us to, in this year of uncertainty and fear connected with immigration and refugees.
Blessed James Alberione, co-founder of the Daughters of St. Paul, counseled that we should “always start with the manger.” A baby was born in that manger to a young couple that was immediately forced by circumstances into exile. This is where Jesus’ life began, as a vulnerable migrant child. If we start with the manger, then we cannot close our eyes to what happened immediately after it.
I moved to America from my native France when I was in my early twenties. I cannot compare my journey to that of today’s migrants: I came out of choice, not necessity. But even in that choice I felt fear, the uncertainty of acceptance, the strangeness of a different language and culture, the loneliness of being cut off from what I knew; and those feelings of alienation are obviously compounded hundreds of times over for those who come because they have no other choice. I cannot even imagine how they feel.
“Behold,” says Jesus, “I stand at the door and knock.” And elsewhere he says, “What you do to the least of these, you do unto me.” So when the immigrant knocks on our doors, it is Christ himself who is asking for our hospitality.
Pope Francis is leading the way forward, and he’s offering more than platitudes. While encouraging Catholics to reach out to migrants and refugees, the Vatican is also reaching out to governments as they struggle to work out international policies and principles for dealing with the large numbers of people fleeing violence and poverty. The involvement of the Church and Church agencies in the United Nations process for drafting the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees goes hand in hand with the much more personalized effort to encourage individual Catholics to meet a migrant or refugee and listen to that person's story.
"In a spirit of compassion, let us embrace all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands," the Pope said in his message for the World Day of Peace on January 1, 2018.
Pope Francis said the two global compacts should be inspired by compassion, foresight, and courage so that the "realism required of international politics avoid surrendering to cynicism and to the globalization of indifference."
"Welcoming others requires concrete commitment, a network of assistance and goodwill, vigilant and sympathetic attention, the responsible management of new and complex situations that at times compound numerous existing problems, to say nothing of resources, which are always limited. By practicing the virtue of prudence, government leaders should take practical measures to welcome, promote, protect, integrate and, 'within the limits allowed by a correct understanding of the common good, to permit [them] to become part of a new society.' Leaders have a clear responsibility towards their own communities, whose legitimate rights and harmonious development they must ensure, lest they become like the rash builder who miscalculated and failed to complete the tower he had begun to construct."
It’s meaningful that the solutions Pope Francis is urging us to take on an individual and government level take the form of verbs, the parts of our sentences that initiate and describe action:
- Welcome: We must offer “broader options for migrants and refugees to enter destination countries safely and legally (…) a concrete commitment to increase and simplify the process for granting humanitarian visas and for reunifying families.
- Protect: When migrants and refugees come to our country, they must “be offered freedom of movement, work opportunities, and access to means of communication, out of respect for their dignity.”
- Promote: The pope calls us to “recognize the true value of the religious dimension, ensuring to all foreigners in any country the freedom of religious belief and practice. Many migrants and refugees have abilities which must be appropriately recognized and valued.”
- Integrate: Catholics need to embrace multiculturalism, to “foster a culture of encounter in every way possible.”
Pope Francis is offering the Church practical steps that can be easily translated into real action.
"The Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development has published a set of twenty action points that provide concrete leads for implementing these four verbs in public policy and in the attitudes and activities of Christian communities. The aim of this and other contributions is to express the interest of the Catholic Church in the process leading to the adoption of the two U.N. Global Compacts. This interest is the sign of a more general pastoral concern that goes back to the very origins of the Church and has continued in her many works up to the present time."
Is your parish sponsoring an immigrant family? Are you teaching your children to respect those of other skin colors, national origins, and religions? Can your business hire an immigrant? Are you politically involved to try and pass legislation that will help immigrants?
The truth is, I’m not. My parish is not sponsoring a family. I have been politically involved in the issue of immigration but have become discouraged of late. I have not done everything that I can. But I am listening to the pope’s words, and this Sunday, I am going to make changes in my own life. The first thing I will do is pray for governments as they struggle to work out international policies and principles for dealing with the large number of people fleeing violence and poverty. Immigration is an issue that requires all of us to work together...and that requires the Holy Spirit. And then I will ask God to send into my path someone who needs my help, a listening ear, my compassion, any monetary assistance I am able to give, the gift of respect.
This is the day the Lord has made—January 14—to take steps as individuals and communities to follow the pope’s call for real, practical change. The Holy Spirit is urging us on. Imagine if we could together create a world where everyone belongs!
—Jeannette de Beauvoir