In a society of growing individualism and indifference, the presence of migrants and refugees prompts a realization of the need for conversion and a renewed embrace of Christian life, Pope Francis said Monday.
In a message for the 2019 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, released May 27, he said, “the most economically advanced societies are witnessing a growing trend towards extreme individualism which, combined with a utilitarian mentality and reinforced by the media, is producing a ‘globalization of indifference.’”
Through migrants, “the Lord is calling us to conversion, to be set free from exclusivity, indifference and the throw-away culture,” he said. “Through them, the Lord invites us to embrace fully our Christian life and to contribute, each according to his or her proper vocation, to the building up of a world that is more and more in accord with God’s plan.”
“The presence of migrants and refugees – and of vulnerable people in general – is an invitation to recover some of those essential dimensions of our Christian existence and our humanity that risk being overlooked in a prosperous society,” he continued.
The pope’s message was released ahead of the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which will take place Sept. 29, 2019. To mark the day, Pope Francis will celebrate a Mass in St. Peter’s Square.
Fr. Michael Czerny, head of the Vatican’s Migrants and Refugees Section, told journalists May 27 they are encouraging other priests and bishops around the world to say a special Mass for migrants and refugees the same day in solidarity.
This, Czerny said, will “give visible expression to the welcome we give to the stranger in Christ and Christ in the stranger.”
In his message, Francis said migrants, refugees, displaced persons, and trafficking victims have become “emblems of exclusion,” and explained that not only do they endure many hardships, they are often the object of blame for the problems in society.
This attitude does not only hurt migrants, he said, it is an “alarm bell warning of the moral decline we will face if we continue to give ground to the to the throw-away culture,” he said. “In fact, if it continues, anyone who does not fall within the accepted norms of physical, mental and social well-being is at risk of marginalization and exclusion.”
The theme of the 2019 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, “It is not just about migrants,” is about the far-reaching effect such an attitude can have. “In a word, it is not only the cause of migrants that is at stake; it is not just about them, but about all of us, and about the present and future of the human family,” Francis said.
He added: “when we show concern for them, we also show concern for ourselves, for everyone; in taking care of them, we all grow; in listening to them, we also give voice to a part of ourselves that we may keep hidden because it is not well regarded nowadays.”
In the message, the pope gave several examples of what other things an anti-migrant and refugee sentiment may be about, including fear.
“The problem is not that we have doubts and fears,” he explained, but that they can make people grow in intolerance, perhaps even to the point of racism. “In this way, fear deprives us of the desire and the ability to encounter the other, the person different from myself; it deprives me of an opportunity to encounter the Lord,” he said.
Problems related to migration and refugees are also about charity, humanity, and Christ’s words that “the last shall be first,” he noted. “Jesus Christ asks us not to yield to the logic of the world, which justifies injustice to others for my own gain or that of my group.”
Lastly, Francis said “it is not just about migrants: it is about building the city of God and man.” According to the pope, “Our response to the challenges posed by contemporary migration can be summed up in four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate.”
“Yet these verbs do not apply only to migrants and refugees,” he stated. “They describe the Church’s mission to all those living in the existential peripheries, who need to be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated. If we put those four verbs into practice, we will help build the city of God and man.”
In response to a question about migrant and refugee policy in politics, Fr. Czerny said it is important to recognize that Pope Francis’ message “is directed to the whole person, not just to that part of the person that reacts to media messaging or political messaging.”
“You might say that the votes people vote with at the voting booth are important, but the votes that they vote with their hands and feet are perhaps even more important,” he argued, and while there may never be a majority of people “actively living out the Gospel in acts of mercy, charity, and justice,” he said he has witnessed many people across Europe giving “real welcome” to migrants.