Welcoming others means welcoming God in person!

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

This is in a nutshell the core message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2016, written by Pope Francis, for this special event which was celebrated throughout the Universal Church last Sunday on January 17.

Within the context of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy this year’s celebration of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees necessarily has a special, if not, a compelling significance. As the Bull of Indiction for the Extraordinary Jubilee righty explains, “at times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives” (Misericordiae Vultus, 3). By welcoming the migrants and refugees we are witnessing to God’s Fatherly love that “is meant to reach out to each and every person”. If we have been experiencing God’s tenderly embrace ever since we were conceived in our mother’s womb who are we not to “become so many other open arms and embraces, enabling every person to feel loved like a child and ‘at home’ as part of the one human family”?

If “God’s fatherly care extends to everyone” it is even more so to the migrants and refugees, who, as Pope Francis aptly described them, are “the sheep who are wounded, weary or ill”. We know that these brothers and sisters had to flee from their countries due to poverty, violence and incessant and brutal persecution. No one, in his and her right senses, would migrate when he and she are settled in their country of origin. We all know of the suffering these people have to face when journeyingto fulfil their dream for a better future. The horrible exploitation they undergo by human traffickers is just one example of what they actually suffer. Adding to this when landing on a foreign land, as the Pope said, “they then have to face latent suspicions and fear”. Moreover, any absence of clear and practical policies regulating their acceptance as migrants would intensify their plight more.

What should be done in front of this tragic situation? In what way can this humanitarian crisis help us to be more proactive as Church in this area?

The Pope said that we, as Church, should “be inspired by the example and words of Jesus Christ” by adopting His “Gospel [which] is mercy”. In his message the Holy Father gave an excellent succinct catechesis of what he means by the Gospel of Mercy.

“Mercy is a gift of God the Father who is revealed in the Son. God’s mercy gives rise to joyful gratitude for the hope which opens up before us in the mystery of our redemption by Christ’s blood. Mercy nourishes and strengthens solidarity towards others as a necessary response to God’s gracious love, ‘which has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ (Rom 5:5). Each of us is responsible for his or her neighbour: we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they live. Concern for fostering good relationships with others and the ability to overcome prejudice and fear are essential ingredients for promoting the culture of encounter, in which we are not only prepared to give, but also to receive from others. Hospitality, in fact, grows from both giving and receiving”.

Secondly, the Church is duty-bound to form and shape the public opinion’s perception of migrants. In fact, the Argentinean Pope highlighted that a correct view of migrants entails that these people are to be regarded “as people whose dignity is to be protected and who are capable of contributing to progress and the general welfare”. It also means that migrants are responsible to accomplish their obligations towards those who receive them, gratefully respecting the material and spiritual heritage of the host country, obeying its laws and helping with its needs”. Most of all the migration question calls for “the defence and promotion of the human person, the culture of encounter, and the unity of peoples, where the Gospel of mercy inspires and encourages ways of renewing and transforming the whole of humanity”.

In what ways you and me, as baptized Christians, can welcome Christ hidden in the stranger? Are we ready to welcome him? Or are closing our doors in his face?

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