This past Sunday the Church observed the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. It used to be observed as a week in between the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord, so as to coincide with the flight of the Holy Family into exile in Egypt. In 2019 Pope Francis moved it to be the last Sunday in September. St. Pius X had begun this observance in 1914 (in response the great emigration of people out of Italy), and his successor, Pope Benedict XV, made it an annual event. Pope Francis moved the date at the request of several national conferences of bishops.
The Holy Father entitled his message for this year “Towards an ever wider ‘we.’” He began by referencing his encyclical Fratelli Tutti. “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’” (No. 35). He said that this is why he chose the “theme, Towards An Ever Wider ‘We,’ in order to indicate a clear horizon for our common journey in this world.”
The pope wrote that this “horizon is already present in God’s creative plan: ‘God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.’(Gen 1:27-28). God created us male and female, different yet complementary, in order to form a ‘we’ destined to become ever more numerous in the succession of generations. God created us in His image, in the image of His Own Triune being, a communion in diversity.”
After we chose to sin, God “in His mercy wished to offer us a path of reconciliation, not as individuals but as a people, a ‘we,’ meant to embrace the entire human family, without exception: ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be His peoples, and God Himself will be with them’ (Rev 21:3). Salvation history thus has a ‘we’ in its beginning and a ‘we’ at its end, and at its center the mystery of Christ, Who died and rose so ‘that they may all be one’ (Jn 17:21). The present time, however, shows that this ‘we’ willed by God is broken and fragmented, wounded and disfigured. 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 (cf. Fratelli Tutti, 11) and radical individualism (cf. ibid., 105). And the highest price is being paid by those who most easily become viewed as others: foreigners, migrants, the marginalized, those living on the existential peripheries.”
The pope doesn’t give up hope in the face of this sad reality. He wrote, “We are all in the same boat and called to work together so that there will be no more walls that separate us, no longer others, but only a single ‘we,’ encompassing all of humanity.” Given that, he first addressed Catholics and then everyone in his message.
In a section entitled, “A Church that is more and more ‘catholic,’” the pope wrote that Christ calls us to “a commitment to becoming ever more faithful to our being ‘catholic,’ as St. Paul reminded the community in Ephesus: ‘There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph 4:4-5). Indeed the Church’s catholicity, her universality, must be embraced and expressed in every age, according to the will and grace of the Lord Who promised to be with us always (cf. Mt 28:20). The Holy Spirit 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. All the baptized, wherever they find themselves, are by right members of both their local ecclesial community and the one Church… part of one family.”
Given that reality, all Catholics “are called to work together… to make the Church become ever more inclusive as she carries out the mission entrusted to the Apostles by Jesus Christ: ‘As you go, proclaim the Good News, “The Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.’ (Mt 10:7-8). In our day, the Church is called to go out into the streets of every existential periphery in order to heal wounds and to seek out the straying, without prejudice or fear, without proselytizing, but ready to widen her tent to embrace everyone. Among those dwelling in those existential peripheries, we find many migrants and refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking, to whom the Lord wants His love to be manifested and His Salvation preached. The current influx of migrants can be seen as a new ‘frontier’ for mission, a privileged 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.”
Then, turning to all of humanity, the pope called for “an ever more inclusive world… ensuring that no one is left behind. Our societies will have a ‘colorful’ future, enriched by diversity and by cultural exchanges. Consequently, we must even now learn to live together in harmony and peace. I am always touched by the scene in the Acts of the Apostles when, on the day of the Church’s ‘baptism’ at Pentecost, immediately after the descent of the Holy Spirit, the people of Jerusalem hear the proclamation of Salvation.” The pope then quoted the list from Acts 2:9-11 of all the nationalities present that day.
“This is the ideal of the new Jerusalem (cf. Is 60; Rev 21:3), where all peoples are united in peace and harmony, celebrating the goodness of God and the wonders of Creation. To achieve this ideal, however, we must make every effort to break down the walls that separate us and, in acknowledging our profound interconnection, build bridges that foster a culture of encounter. Today’s migration movements offer an opportunity for us to overcome our fears and let ourselves be enriched by the diversity of each person’s gifts, [so that] the miracle of an ever wider ‘we’ can come about.
“I invite all men and women in our world to make good use of the gifts that the Lord has entrusted to us to preserve and make His Creation even more beautiful.” The pope then referenced the parable of the talents and wrote, “The Lord will also demand of us an account of our work! Ours must be a personal and collective commitment that cares for all our brothers and sisters who continue to suffer. A commitment that makes no 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.
“The prophet Joel predicted that the messianic future would be a time of dreams and visions inspired by the Spirit… ‘Your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions’ (Joel 2:28). We are called to dream together, fearlessly, as a single human family.”
The pope closed with a prayer, in which he referenced Jesus’ teaching “that there is great rejoicing in Heaven whenever someone lost is found, whenever someone excluded, rejected or discarded is gathered into our ‘we.’” He then asked God to “Bless each act of welcome and outreach that draws those in exile into the ‘we’ of community and of the Church, so that our earth may truly become what You Yourself created it to be: the common home of all our brothers and sisters. Amen.”