“We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved. They are an occasion that Providence gives us to help build a more just society, a more perfect democracy, a more united country, a more fraternal world and a more open and evangelical Christian community.”
June 20th marked the UN World Refugee Day, bringing attention to the plight of children, women, and men facing unimaginable hardship in their efforts to escape persecution and violence. Currently, wealthy countries, such as ours, are becoming increasingly intolerant, exclusionary, isolationist. Political leaders who foment fear and division are gaining popularity, feeding what Pope Francis has called a “globalization of indifference” towards the suffering of others. The Pope warns against the present trend of scapegoating migrants and refugees, blaming them for all our society’s problems. He calls us to overcome our fear of otherness, recognizing Christ in the very people whose difference makes us uncomfortable and afraid. [Christ] is the one, said Pope Francis, “with ragged clothes, dirty feet, agonized faces, sore bodies, unable to speak our language”. We should be grateful to the refugee for the opportunity of “welcoming and assisting Jesus”. The migrant/ refugee “problem” Francis contends, is not just about refugees—it is about each of us; it is about our humanity. By giving in to a “throw-away culture” we put ourselves at risk of being excluded and marginalized for not conforming closely enough to an accepted norm. The Pope reminds us that Jesus was a refugee. I think of many of our parents and the influx of Ukrainians to Canada after the 2nd world war. They too came as refugees. Labeled DP (displaced persons) they often encountered ridicule and exclusion from jobs, housing, and schools. As Christians we must be open to not only migrants and refugees but all people in need. Francis tells us that “our response to the challenges posed by contemporary migration can be summed up in four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate.” This response “enables us to be more human: to recognize ourselves as participants in a greater collectivity and to understand our life as a gift for others; to see as the goal, not our own interests, but rather the good of humanity”.