Pope Francis reminds Christians that migrants and refugees should be welcomed around the world
Pope Francis again denounced “the globalization of indifference” and said “a painful truth” is that “our world is daily more and more elitist, more cruel towards the excluded,” as he celebrated Mass in St Peter’s Square on the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees on Sept. 29.
He reminded the 40,000 faithful present in the square and believers worldwide that “as Christians, we cannot be indifferent to the tragedy of old and new forms of poverty, to the bleak isolation, contempt and discrimination experienced by those who do not belong to 'our group'” and added, “we cannot remain insensitive, our hearts deadened, before the misery of so many innocent people. We must not fail to weep. We must not fail to respond.”
At the end of mass, he underlined the moral imperative to welcome and give hospitality to migrants and discarded people by inaugurating a 20-foot tall bronze, three and a half-ton sculpture, on the left-hand side of St. Peter’s Square. The sculpture depicts 140 migrants and refugees from different cultures and historical periods, including indigenous migrants, Jews fleeing from Nazi Germany, Poles escaping from communism and Syrians and Africans fleeing from war, poverty and famine. The 140 figures correspond to the 140 sculptures in the colonnades of the square designed by Bernini.
"As Christians, we cannot be indifferent to the tragedy of old and new forms of poverty."
It is the first time in 400 years, since the time of Bernini, that a new sculpture has been installed in this square. Conceived and designed by the Canadian artist, Timothy Schmalz, at the request of the Vatican office for Migrants and Refugees, led by the cardinal-designate Michael Czerny and the Scalabrini missionary, Fr. Fabio Baggio, who respond directly to the pope. The sculpture was unveiled after Mass by four migrants in the presence of Pope Francis who examined it in detail and shook hands with Mr. Schmalz, the migrants and those who had contributed to its realization. At the Angelus, Francis recalled that the sculpture gives expression to the words from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Do not neglect hospitality, for some unknowingly welcomed angels.”
Thousands of colorfully dressed migrants and refugees from many countries who have found refuge and a new home in Italy, thanks also to the Italian church, were present at the Mass. Prayers were said in Arabic, Swahili, Chinese, French and Italian, while families from Nigeria, Syria, the Philippines and Slovakia brought the offertory gifts to the pope. A choir from South India sang hymns, and others too from Mexico, Peru and the Congo sang. Many wore T-shirts colored blue, green, yellow, red and white representing the different continents. The incense used at mass was made in an Ethiopian refugee camp.
Wearing green vestments, Francis in his homily reminded everyone that “if we want to be men and women of God” then, as Saint Paul urges Timothy, we must “keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He recalled that “the commandment is to love God and love our neighbor” and emphasized that “the two cannot be separated!”
Pope Francis said, “Loving our neighbor as ourselves means being firmly committed to building a more just world, in which everyone has access to the goods of the earth, in which all can develop as individuals and as families, and in which fundamental rights and dignity are guaranteed to all.” Furthermore, he explained, “loving our neighbor means feeling compassion for the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, drawing close to them, touching their sores and sharing their stories, and thus manifesting concretely God’s tender love for them. This means being a neighbor to all those who are mistreated and abandoned on the streets of our world, soothing their wounds and bringing them to the nearest shelter, where their needs can be met.”
"Today’s world is increasingly becoming more elitist and cruel towards the excluded.”
He recalled that in his message for this 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the refrain “It is not Just about Migrants,” is repeated because “it is not only about foreigners; it is about all those in existential peripheries who, together with migrants and refugees, are victims of the throwaway culture.” Francis insisted, “the Lord calls us to practice charity towards them. He calls us to restore their humanity, as well as our own, and to leave no one behind.”
In addition to the exercise of charity, Francis said “the Lord also invites us to think about the injustices that cause exclusion—and in particular the privileges of the few, who, in order to preserve their status, act to the detriment of the many.”
Pope Francis, quoting from that message, said: “Today’s world is increasingly becoming more elitist and cruel towards the excluded.” He added this morning, “this is a painful truth; our word is daily more and more elitist, more cruel towards the excluded.” Then, returning to the text of his message, he said, “Developing countries continue to be drained of their best natural and human resources for the benefit of a few privileged markets. Wars only affect some regions of the world, yet weapons of war are produced and sold in other regions which are then unwilling to take in the refugees generated by these conflicts. Those who pay the price are always the little ones, the poor, the most vulnerable, who are prevented from sitting at the table and are left with the ‘crumbs’ of the banquet.”
Ever since becoming pope on March 13, 2013, Francis, the son of migrants, has sought to awaken the consciences of people worldwide to the plight of migrants and refugees, which is the result of the biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War and now involves, according to the United Nations, some 70.8 million people who are forced to leave their own country, including 30 million refugees.
With this dramatic reality in mind, Pope Francis today repeated the words he had first uttered when he visited the island of Lampedusa on July 8, 2013 to mourn the thousands who had drowned in the Mediterranean Sea on their way to seek refuge in Europe: “Today, the culture of comfort… makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people… which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference.”
This morning, in his homily, he went further and declared: “In the end, we too risk becoming like that rich man in the Gospel who is unconcerned for the poor man Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Too intent on buying elegant clothes and organizing lavish banquets, the rich man in the parable is blind to Lazarus’s suffering. Overly concerned with preserving our own well-being, we too risk being blind to our brothers and sisters in difficulty.”
He concluded his homily by entrusting to “the maternal love of Mary, Our Lady of the Way, all migrants and refugees, together with those who live on the peripheries of our world and those who have chosen to share their journey.”