In the Year of Mercy, the Catholic Church's annual day of reflection and prayer on the situation of migrants and refugees will include a special reminder that "welcoming the stranger" is a corporal work of mercy.
For World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2016, Pope Francis has chosen the theme: "Migrants and refugees challenge us. The response of the Gospel of mercy," the Vatican announced Aug. 20.
Closer to the celebration, which is Jan. 17 at the Vatican and a full week in January for Catholics in the United States, Pope Francis will issue a special message, the announcement said.
Explaining the pope's choice for the theme, the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers said the pope first wants to draw Catholics' attention to "the dramatic situation of many men and women forced to abandon their homelands."
In calling a Year of Mercy beginning Dec. 8, Pope Francis said it would be a time to overcome indifference to the needs of others, the council said. "Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help," the pope wrote in the document proclaiming the year.
The theme's reference to "the Gospel of mercy," the council said, aims "explicitly to tie the phenomenon of migration to the response of the world and, especially, of the church. In this context, the Holy Father invites the Christian people to reflect during the jubilee year on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which includes welcoming the stranger."
"Christ himself is present among 'the least,' and at the end of life we will be judged on how we responded with love," the council's statement said.
The council asked parishes and dioceses around the world to make a special effort during the Year of Mercy to celebrate World Day of Migrants and Refugees and, particularly, to invite migrants and refugees to be part of the planning and commemorations.
As Italy and its politicians struggle with the country's immigration policy and the thousands of people arriving on Italy's southern shores, fleeing violence in the Middle East and northern Africa, the council also recalled that World Day of Migrants and Refugees began in Italy in 1914.
At that time, the council noted, the issue was not caring for people entering Italy, but raising money and training pastoral workers to minister to Italians who had moved abroad in search of a better life for themselves and their families.