Pope Francis celebrated Mass for World Day of Migrants and Refugees before thousands of believers, priests and choirs from African, Asian, Latin American. Around the altar of Confession stood the flags of the 49 countries from which migrants, refugees and asylum seekers have come. For the pope, it is urgent "to welcome, to know, and to acknowledge the other". For refugees it means "respecting the laws, the culture and the traditions of the countries that take them in." For host communities, this requires opening up “without prejudices to their rich diversity”. Host communities and refugees hold “fears”, but “Having doubts and fears is not a sin. The sin is to allow these fears to determine our responses”.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis celebrated World Day of Migrants and Refugees with a Mass in St Peter’s Basilica. In his homily the pontiff stressed that migrants or refugees knocking on our door are "an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ". At the same time, for strangers, " every door in a new land is also an opportunity to encounter Jesus.”
For the pope, Jesus’s encounter with the first disciples (John 1, 35-42), in the Gospel of today's Mass, has become the symbol with which migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and local communities must meet, appreciate each other, and overcome their respective fears, those of the host communities and those of the new arrivals.
The setting for the Mass on World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which Pope Francis insistently sought, was very multinational. At least 10,000 people were present: Indians, Arabs, Romanians, Sri Lankans, Cape Verdeans, Filipinos. Prayers were recited in Congolese, Chinese, Ukrainian, Malayalam. There were Mexican and Indonesian priests, Arab and Brazilian choirs, Western and Latin American musical instruments, and the flags of 49 countries around the altar of Confession (picture 2).
In his address, Francis emphasised that this Mass "invites and welcomes you especially who are migrants, refugees and asylum seekers”. Then, inspired by the encounter of Jesus with the disciples, he said that each encounter "requires sufficient time to welcome, to know and to acknowledge the other."
“In today’s world, for new arrivals to welcome, to know and to acknowledge means to know and respect the laws, the culture and the traditions of the countries that take them in. It even includes understanding their fears and apprehensions for the future. For local communities to welcome, to know and to acknowledge newcomers means to open themselves without prejudices to their rich diversity, to understand the hopes and potential of the newly arrived as well as their fears and vulnerabilities.”
Referring to today’s Message, the pope stressed that welcoming is not everything, that we also need to "protect, promote and integrate".
“True encounter with the other does not end with welcome, but involves us all in the three further actions which I spelled out in the Message for this Day: to protect, to promote and to integrate. [. . .] This true encounter with Christ is source of salvation, a salvation which should be announced and brought to all, as the apostle Andrew shows us.”
The pontiff has always championed the cause of refugees, and has often criticised the indifference and hostility of those who are against them in world society. In the homily he does however admit that “It is not easy to enter into another culture, to put oneself in the shoes of people so different from us, to understand their thoughts and their experiences. As a result, we often refuse to encounter the other and raise barriers to defend ourselves.”
Perhaps for the first time, in his acts in favour of refugees, the pontiff acknowledged the "fear" that can be found in host communities and among the refugees themselves. “Local communities are sometimes afraid that the newly arrived will disturb the established order, will ‘steal’ something they have long laboured to build up. And the newly arrived also have fears: they are afraid of confrontation, judgment, discrimination, failure. These fears are legitimate, based on doubts that are fully comprehensible from a human point of view. Having doubts and fears is not a sin. The sin is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection. The sin is to refuse to encounter the other, the different, the neighbour, when this is in fact a privileged opportunity to encounter the Lord.
“From this encounter with Jesus present in the poor, the rejected, the refugee, the asylum seeker, flows our prayer of today. It is a reciprocal prayer: migrants and refugees pray for local communities, and local communities pray for the newly arrived and for migrants who have been here longer. To the maternal intercession of Mary Most Holy we entrust the hopes of all the world’s migrants and refugees and the aspirations of the communities which welcome them. In this way, responding to the supreme commandment of charity and love of neighbour, may we all learn to love the other, the stranger, as ourselves.”