In his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis recognized the challenges involved with welcoming migrants, but stressed that despite the difficulties they should always be accepted as brothers and sisters. “At the heart of the Gospel of mercy, the encounter and acceptance by others are intertwined with the encounter and acceptance of God himself,” the Pope said in his message for the 2016 World Day of Migrants and Refugees. “Welcoming others means welcoming God in person!” he said, and addressed migrants and refugees directly, telling them not to let themselves “be robbed of the hope and joy of life born of your experience of God’s mercy, as manifested in the people you meet on your journey!” Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees was presented to journalists during an Oct. 1 news conference in Rome. The day will be celebrated in the Church Jan. 17, 2016, within the context of the Holy Year for Mercy. The title of the Pope’s message is “Migrants and Refugees Challenge Us. The Response of the Gospel of Mercy.” In his message, the Pope highlighted the various challenges both migrants and refugees face in leaving their homes, as well as difficulties encountered by the countries who receive them. He noted how migration today is growing at a global level, and that the exodus of people fleeing their homes challenges both individuals and communities, and can at times upset the traditional ways of life and the cultural and social horizons of the societies who welcome them. On the other hand, the Pope also noted that migrants are increasingly “the victims of violence and poverty (who) are exploited by human traffickers during their journey towards the dream of a better future.” Even if they survive the journey, migrants and refugees are often faced with “latent suspicions and fear,” as well as a lack of clear and practical policies that provide short or long term programs aimed at societal integration with respect for everyone’s rights, he observed. Francis said migrants and refugees are above all brothers and sisters in search of a better life, far away from hunger, violence, poverty and an unjust distribution of the earth’s resources, and ought to be viewed as such. Migration has become a structural reality, he said, explaining that our primary concern to the crisis ought to be providing programs that address the root causes of migration, and the changes it entails. “The tragic stories of millions of men and women daily confront the international community as a result of the outbreak of unacceptable humanitarian crises in different parts of the world,” he said. “Indifference and silence lead to complicity whenever we stand by as people are dying of suffocation, starvation, violence and shipwreck,” he said, adding that whether they happen on a large or small scale, “these are always tragedies, even when a single human life is lost.” The Pope said that identity is not a secondary question in the matter, and noted how both those forced to migrate as well as the receiving countries are often forced to change some of their most distinct attributes, whether they like it or not. He questioned how these changes can be viewed not as obstacles to development, but rather “as opportunities for genuine human, social and spiritual growth, a growth which respects and promotes those values which make us ever more humane.” “How can we ensure that integration will become mutual enrichment, open up positive perspectives to communities, and prevent the danger of discrimination, racism, extreme nationalism or xenophobia?” As an answer, Francis pointed to the biblical emphasis on welcoming the stranger, and said that in doing so “we open our doors to God…in the faces of others we see the face of Christ himself.” While various organizations, institutions and movements have already made great efforts to welcome incoming migrants and refugees, debates continue on the conditions and limits to be set for receiving them, both in the international community, and in parishes communities, he observed. In response to these issues we are faced with the question on how the Church can imitate the example and words of Jesus, Pope Francis said, explaining that the answer is “the Gospel is mercy.” Mercy, he said, “nourishes and strengthens solidarity towards others as a necessary response to God’s gracious love.” “Concern for fostering good relationships with others and the ability to overcome prejudice and fear are essential ingredients for promoting the culture of encounter, in which we are not only prepared to give, but also to receive from others.” The Pope emphasized that migrants shouldn’t be seen solely on the basis of their status as regular or irregular, but above all as persons with dignity who are able to contribute the well-being of society. Migrations, he said, “cannot be reduced merely to their political and legislative aspects, their economic implications and the concrete coexistence of various cultures in one territory.” Francis assured the Church’s closeness to all who work to defend the right of each person to live in dignity, especially in exercising their right not to emigrate. Processes aimed at helping persons to stay in their own countries first of all involve helping the countries that migrants and refugees are leaving, he said. “In any case, it is necessary to avert, if possible at the earliest stages, the flight of refugees and departures as a result of poverty, violence and persecution.” Doing this, the Pope noted, will demonstrate that cooperation, solidarity, international interdependence and the just distribution of the earth’s goods are essential for more concrete efforts. Pope Francis also underlined the fact that public opinion “needs to be correctly formed, not least to prevent unwarranted fears and speculations detrimental to migrants.” No one, he said, can claim to be indifferent in front of the new forms of slavery that buy and sell men, women and children as forced laborers in construction, agriculture, fishing or in various other markets, as well as those who force children to fight as soldiers. “Today’s refugees are fleeing from these aberrant crimes, and they appeal to the Church and the human community to ensure that, in the outstretched hand of those who receive them, they can see the face of the Lord,” the Pope observed. He closed his message by stressing the importance of the Gospel of mercy, and entrusted all migrants and refugees to the care of Mary and St. Joseph, who also experience “the bitterness” of their flight to Egypt, and extended his blessing to those who invest in the pastoral and social care of migrants.
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