Pope Francis appealed to European countries on Wednesday to take “shared responsibility” for refugees and migrants.
Speaking at the general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall on Dec. 22, the pope said that his recent trip to Cyprus and Greece showed that some countries were bearing a greater share of the burden than others.
“During my visit to Cyprus and Greece, I was able to once again personally touch wounded humanity in refugees and migrants. I also noted how only some European countries are bearing most of the consequences of this migratory phenomenon in the Mediterranean area, while in reality, a shared responsibility is necessary from which no country can exempt itself,” the pope said.
“In particular, thanks to the generous openness of the Italian authorities, I was able to bring to Rome a group of people I met during my journey: some of them are here among us today. Welcome!”
He went on: “As a Church, we will take care of them during the coming months. This is a small sign that I hope will serve as a stimulus for other European countries, so that they might allow the local ecclesial communities to take care of other brothers and sisters who are in urgent need of being relocated.”
“In fact, there are many local Churches, religious congregations, and Catholic organizations who are ready to welcome and accompany them toward a fruitful integration. All that is needed is an open door.”
The pope issued the appeal towards the end of his live-streamed general audience.
The Holy See press office said that after the audience, the pope greeted a little girl he met during his Dec. 5 visit to the Mavrovouni refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos. It said that the girl was in Rome with her family for treatment, following the pope’s intervention and with the support of the Community of Sant’Egidio.
In his general audience address, the pope reflected on the birth of Jesus, which he described as an event that “history cannot dispense with.”
He noted that because Mary and Joseph could not find a place to stay, Jesus was born in a stable.
He said: “Let’s think: the Creator of the universe… He was not given a place to be born.”
He also recalled that Jesus’ birth was announced by an angel to “lowly shepherds.”
“The shepherds personify the poor of Israel, lowly people who interiorly live with the awareness of their own want,” he said. “Precisely for this reason, they trust more than others in God. They were the first to see the Son of God made man, and this encounter changed them deeply.”
All that is known for certain about the Magi who visited the newborn Jesus is that they came from the East, he explained.
“The Magi represent the pagan peoples, in particular all those who have sought God down through the ages, and who set out on a journey to find Him,” he said.
“They also represent the rich and powerful, but only those who are not slaves to possessions, who are not ‘possessed’ by the things they believe they possess.”
He said that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth underline that it was “a universal event that concerns all of humanity.”
“Dear brothers and sisters, humility is the only way that leads us to God. At the same time, specifically because it leads us to Him, humility leads us also to the essentials of life, to its truest meaning, to the most trustworthy reason for why life is truly worth living,” the pope commented.
“Humility alone opens us up to the experience of truth, of authentic joy, of knowing what matters. Without humility we are ‘cut off,’ we are cut off from understanding God and from understanding ourselves. Humility is needed to understand ourselves, all the more so to understand God.”
“The Magi may have even been great according to the world’s logic, but they made themselves lowly, humble, and precisely because of this they succeeded in finding Jesus and recognizing Him. They accepted the humility of seeking, of setting out on a journey, of asking, of taking a risk, of making a mistake.”
Pope Francis said that every person has an inner restlessness that drives them to seek God.
“Our work is not to snuff out that restlessness, but to allow it to grow because it is that restlessness that seeks God; and, with His own grace, can find Him,” he said.
He added: “Dear brothers and sisters, I would like to invite every man and woman to the stable of Bethlehem to adore the Son of God made man. May each one of us draw near to the crèche in our own homes or in the church or in another place, and try to make an act of adoration, inside: ‘I believe you are God, that this baby is God. Please, grant me the grace of humility to be able to understand.’”
The pope emphasized that it was impossible to find God without humility.
“The reason is that the person who is not humble has no horizon in front of him or her,” he said. “They only have a mirror in which to look at themselves. Let us ask the Lord to break this mirror so we can look beyond, to the horizon, where He is. But He needs to do this: grant us the grace and the joy of humility to take this path.”
“Then, brothers and sisters, just like the star did with the Magi, I would like to accompany to Bethlehem all those who have no religious restlessness, who do not pose the question of God, or who may even fight against religion, all those who are improperly identified as atheists.”
Quoting the Vatican II document Gaudium et spes, he said: “I would like to repeat to them the message of the Second Vatican Council: ‘The Church holds that the recognition of God is in no way hostile to man's dignity, since this dignity is rooted and perfected in God. […] Above all the Church knows that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart.’”
The pope added that the love of God was a source of joy for Christians.
“This is the reason for joy: knowing that we are loved without any merit, we are always loved first by God, with a love so concrete that He took on flesh and came to live in our midst, in that Baby that we see in the crib. This love has a name and a face: Jesus is the name and the face of love — this is the foundation of our joy,” he said.
After the address, a precis of the pope’s catechesis was read out in seven languages. After each summary, he greeted members of each language group.
The audience concluded with the recitation of the Our Father and the Apostolic Blessing. The pope then greeted a line of clergy, briefly breaking off to receive an urgent phone call.
In his parting message to pilgrims, Pope Francis said: “Brothers and sisters, I wish you a Merry Christmas, a happy and holy Christmas. And I would like that — yes, there are well wishes, family reunions, this is always very beautiful — but may there also be the awareness that God comes ‘for me.’”
“Let’s everyone say this: God comes for me. The awareness that to seek God, to find God, to accept God, humility is needed: to seek with humility the grace of breaking the mirror of vanity, of pride, of looking at ourselves. To look at Jesus, to look toward the horizon, to look at God who comes to us and who touches our hearts with that restlessness that brings us hope. Happy and holy Christmas!”