Rome (AsiaNews) - Integration "is a right" for those who seek refuge because "true mercy, the one God gives us and teaches us, calls for Justice, and demands that the poor find a way not to be so anymore." Mercy "demands this from us, the Church; us, the city of Rome; the government. It demands that no one be needful any longer of a cafeteria, a shelter, or legal aid in order to see recognised his or her right to live and work, to be a full person."
During his visit this afternoon to the Astalli Centre, Pope Francis strongly defended refugee rights. At the Jesuit-run shelter that has helped for more than 30 years people who left their countries and made their way to Rome, he called in particular on men and women "religious" to take seriously and responsibly "this sign of the times."
"The Lord calls upon us to live with greater courage and generosity in order to welcome [others] into [our] communities, homes, empty convents . . . Dear men and women religious, empty convents do not serve the Church when they are turned into hotels to earn money. Empty convents are not ours; they are for refugees who are the flesh of Christ. The Lord has called upon us to live with generosity and courage the act of welcoming [others] to empty convents."
During his visit the pontiff met the volunteers who hand out food, advisers who provide legal aid, physicians who receive and visit the sick, the pharmacist who prescribes drugs, i.e. caring that does not only "offers a sandwich" but also "accompanies".
"To accompany. During this time, the Astalli Centre has come a long way. At its inception, it offered initial reception services: a cafeteria, beds, and legal aid. Then, it learnt to accompany people in search of work and social integration. Later, it offered cultural activities in order to contribute to the growth of a culture of caring, a culture of encounter and solidarity, starting with human rights protection. [But] caring is not enough. It is not enough to give a sandwich if it is not accompanied by the possibility of learning to stand on one's own two feet. Charity, that leaves the poor the way he is, is not enough. True mercy, the one God gives us and teaches us, calls for justice, demands that the poor find a way not to be so anymore."
"Each of you, dear friends, brings a life story that speaks of the tragedies of wars, conflicts, which are often linked to international politics," the pope said as he greeted the refugees. "But each of you brings especially a human and religious wealth that must be welcomed, not feared. Many of you are Muslims, or from other religions. You come from different countries, different situations. We should not be afraid of differences! Brotherhood allows us to discover that they are an asset, a gift for everyone! Let us live this brotherhood. "
To accompany is one of the three "words", along with to serve and to defend, Francis cited as a way to follow in relating to those who seek a new land.
"To serve. What does that mean? To serve means accepting the person who arrives, with care. It means leaning over those in need and reaching out to them, without second thoughts, without fear, [but] with tenderness and understanding, as Jesus did when he washed the apostles' feet. To serve means working alongside the most in need, establishing with them first of all a human relationship, closeness, and bonds of solidarity. Solidarity! A word that scares the more developed parts of the world, [where people] try not to say it, [as if it was] almost a dirty word for them. But it is our word! To serve means to recognise and uphold the calls for justice and hope, and to look together for ways, concrete paths towards liberation. "
"The poor are also privileged masters of our knowledge of God. Their fragility and simplicity expose our selfishness, our false certainties, our claims of self-sufficiency; they guide us to experience God's closeness and tenderness, to give in our life the love and mercy that come from our Father who, with discretion and patient trust, takes care of us, all of us."
"From this place of caring, meeting and service, I have a question for everyone, for all the people who live here in this diocese of Rome. Do I lean over those who are in difficulty, or am I afraid to get my hands dirty? Am I closed onto myself, and my things, or do I see those who are in need of help? Do I please only myself, or do I serve others, as Christ did when he came to serve, and gave his life? Do I look in the eyes of those who ask for justice or look away in order not to look into those eyes?"
"To defend. To serve. To accompany also mean to defend. It means being on the side of those who are weaker. How many times have we raised our voices to defend our own rights, but how many times have we been indifferent to the rights of others! How many times have we been unable or unwilling to give voice to those who, like you, have suffered and are suffering; those who have seen their rights trampled; those who lived through so much violence that their desire for justice has been stifled!"
"For the entire Church," the pope noted, "it is important that caring for the poor and promoting justice not be entrusted only to ' specialists', but that they be part of pastoral work as a whole, of the training of future priests and men and women religious, of parishes' usual activity, of Church movement and groups."
After asking that empty convents be opened, the pope went on to say, "Certainly it is not something simple. It takes judgement, responsibility, but also courage. We do so much, [but] perhaps we are called to do more, caring and sharing resolutely what Providence has given us to serve," so that we can "overcome the temptation of spiritual worldliness in order to be close to ordinary people, especially those who are last. We need supportive communities that live love in a concrete way."
"Every day," he said by way of conclusion, "here and in other centres, many people, especially young people, get in line for a hot meal. Those people remind us of humanity's suffering and tragedies. But that line also tells us to do something. Now, everything is possible. All it takes is knocking at the door, and try to say, 'I am here. How can I help?'"