Pope Francis says society, both in the wider world and within the Church, is crumbling due to “myopic and aggressive forms of nationalism and radical individualism,” and it’s those who live in the peripheries who’re paying the highest price.
He also said the ongoing migration phenomenon – according to a 2020 report from the United Nations 2020, over 280 million people around the world live in countries different to the one they were born – is an opportunity to overcome fear and be enriched by the diversity of the other.
“We can transform borders into privileged places of encounter,” Francis said, urging society to work together towards a more sustainable and inclusive development knowing that “whatever good is done in our world is done for present and future generations.” The commitment to do so mustn’t make distinction between “natives and foreigners, between residents and guests, since it is a matter of a treasure we hold in common, from whose care and benefits no one should be excluded.”
Francis’s words came in his annual message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugee, which was released on Thursday.
The Church has been celebrating the World Day of Migrants and Refugees since 1914, and it is marked on the last Sunday of September.
The history of salvation, Francis argued in this year’s message, presents humanity as a “we,” with God creating humanity male and female, “different yet complementary, in order to form a ‘we’ destined to become ever more numerous in the succession of generations,” and Christ died and rose “so that they may all be one.”
“The present time, however, shows that this ‘we’ willed by God is broken and fragmented, wounded and disfigured,” the pope said. “This becomes all the more evident in moments of great crisis, as is the case with the current pandemic. Our ‘we’, both in the wider world and within the Church, is crumbling and cracking due to myopic and aggressive forms of nationalism and radical individualism.”
And it’s those who are easily defined as “others” who pay the highest price for the fragmentation: “Foreigners, migrants, the marginalized, those living on the existential peripheries.”
Quoting heavily from his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, the pontiff reiterated a concern and a hope he’s had since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic: “Once this health crisis passes, our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation. God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those’, but only ‘us.’”
Addressing the Church in particular, the pope reminded the faithful that Catholic means “universal,” and this is something that must be embraced by all, guided by the Holy Spirit, who “enables us to embrace everyone, to build communion in diversity, to unify differences without imposing a depersonalized uniformity.”
“In encountering the diversity of foreigners, migrants and refugees, and in the intercultural dialogue that can emerge from this encounter, we have an opportunity to grow as Church and to enrich one another,” Francis wrote. “All the baptized, wherever they find themselves, are by right members of both their local ecclesial community and the one Church, dwellers in one home and part of one family.”
The Church today, he said, is called to go out into the streets of “every existential periphery” to heal wounds and approach those who have gone astray, without being afraid and without proselytizing. Among those in the peripheries, Francis said, one can find migrants and refugees, displaced persons and victims of human trafficking. Coming to their aid is an opportunity to “proclaim Jesus Christ and the Gospel message at home, and to bear concrete witness to the Christian faith in a spirit of charity and profound esteem for other religious communities.”
By fostering a more inclusive humanity, he said, societies will have a “colorful” future, enriched by diversity and cultural exchange. But for this to happen, it’s necessary to “break down the walls that separate us and, in acknowledging our profound interconnection, build bridges that foster a culture of encounter.”