World Day of Migrants and Refugees: pope's message of hope
Sunday 14th January is the Church’s 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Pope Francis’ message to the faithful on this occasion draws attention to the “lamentable situation of many migrants and refugees fleeing from war, persecution, natural disasters and poverty” and comes shortly after his visit to the Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh seeking sanctuary from persecution in Myanmar.
In his message the pope says “This situation is undoubtedly a “sign of the times” which I have tried to interpret, with the help of the Holy Spirit. … I wish to reaffirm that our shared response may be articulated by four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate”.
British Provincial Fr Damian Howard SJ has published an article for World Day of Migrants and Refugees in which he reminds us that the plight of refugees has been a concern of popes for the last fifty years. He interprets Pope Francis’ message as a call for practical action coming from a “conversion of the heart”, to leave aside our ingrained concerns for legal status and nationality rather than humanity:
“Pope Francis’s Message of Hope is a call to holistic love in action, a love that encounters people in the world as it is, and thinks about how to change that world to help them, so we can all flourish together. It is also a call to a love that encounters people as they are, in all of their human dimensions, and on this basis cares about God’s purpose for them and is willing to be transformed by them. It is a call to a deep and reciprocal hospitality.”
Sarah Teather, Director of Jesuit Refugee Service UK, echoes these thoughts: “Pope Francis has consistently drawn our attention back to the plight of refugees and migrants, whether largescale catastrophic movements of people from Myanmar or South Sudan, or the rejection of those in need closer to home. In his statement for World Day of Migrants and Refugees he again reminds us that the Church’s teaching is not new, but comes out of the principle of the centrality of the human person.”
In his article Fr Howard describes a project run by JRS UK in response to the pope’s call for practical action. The At Home project supports communities to host destitute asylum seekers for periods of three months. “The offer of some emotional and physical safety and space to rest and grow for the refugee hosted is precious,” he says. “It is an instance of deep hospitality which has been a gift to those communities who have taken part in it, and just might be a practical a model for helping to transform society across many levels.”
Sarah Teather commented, “JRS UK is a project of the Jesuits in Britain and we are lucky to get a great deal of active support from many Jesuits in the province and other Jesuit works. Fr Provincial’s support for our mission and encouragement and understanding of our At Home hosting scheme makes a particular difference and we are grateful for it.”