ROME – Citing the words of the Gospel and his predecessors, Pope Francis on Friday released a message saying that those who foment fear of immigrants are sowing violence, racial discrimination and xenophobia, while they could be building peace instead.
“All indicators available to the international community suggest that global migration will continue for the future,” Francis wrote. “Some consider this a threat. For my part, I ask you to view it with confidence as an opportunity to build peace.”
In his annual message for the Church-sponsored World Day of Peace, held yearly on January 1, Francis also voiced support for two pending agreements, known as Global Compacts, that the United Nations is scheduled to draft and approve in 2018. One is about safe and regular migration, and another on refugees.
The pope’s message was released on Friday, under the theme “Migrants and refugees: men and women in search of peace.”
“Benedict XVI, my beloved predecessor, said these are ‘men and women, children, young and elderly people, who are searching for somewhere to live in peace’,” Francis wrote in the opening paragraph of his roughly 2,000- word message.
A son of immigrants himself, Francis has made the defense of migrants and refugees one of the cornerstones of his papacy’s social agenda, garnering criticism from some quarters both within and outside the Catholic Church. Conscious of this, Francis supported the core elements of his message with quotes from the Bible (seven), and popes John XXIII (two), John Paul II (two) and Benedict XVI (three).
In recent years, Francis has opened the doors of the Vatican to several migrant families, brought Syrian refugees stranded on the Greek island of Lesbos with him back to Rome, and he’s urged every Catholic Church, convent or monastery in Europe to welcome at least one refugee family.
Estimates indicate that there are currently 250 million international migrants around the world, 22.5 million of whom are refugees.
In order to find peace, the pope wrote, migrants and refugees are willing to “risk their lives” on long and dangerous trips, often enduring hardship and suffering, “and to encounter fences and walls built to keep them far from their goal.”
Though he named no countries, many around the world in recent years have put up fences and threatened to build walls to keep out migrants and refugees. In Europe, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Macedonia, Austria and France (with British funding) have all built fences, in addition to tightening controls in other countries.
In the United States, President Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to build an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border. As president, Trump has also implemented measures against immigrants such as ending the Temporary Protected Status for Haitians.
Explaining the reasons behind the forced relocation of migrants and refugees, the pope noted that many flee “from war and hunger, or are forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands.”
Millions have fled war and persecution in Iraq and Syria, he said; conflict, hunger and climate change in several African nations; and in Asia, 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh, running from military-perpetrated violence. Both are countries Francis will visit starting Monday.
Francis also said that even though most migrate through regular channels, others are forced, “mainly out of desperation,” to take paths that are neither safe nor legal.
The pontiff said the “wisdom of faith” leads to a “contemplative gaze that recognizes” that migrants and the local population all belong to one family and, according to the Church’s social doctrine, all have the right to enjoy the “goods of the earth.”
Upon their arrival in these new countries, the pope said, migrants don’t come “empty-handed.” They bring their “courage, skills, energy and aspirations, as well as the treasures of their own cultures,” enriching the nations that receive them.
Writing about those who welcome them, opening their “doors and hearts,” the pope praised the “creativity, tenacity and spirit of sacrifice.”
Regarding those “responsible for the public good,” the pope said that they too should be guided by a contemplative gaze, encouraged to implement policies of welcome, “within the limits allowed by a correct understanding of the common good.”
According to Francis, finding the peace that refugees, migrants and victims of human trafficking seek requires a strategy that combines four factors: welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating, which come from his own message for the Church-sponsored “Day for Migrants and Refugees.”
After expanding on those four points, he closed each explanation with a Bible quote. For instance, “protecting,” the pope said, has to do with acknowledging and defending the dignity of those fleeing real danger, offering them security to prevent their being exploited, underlining the case of women and children who are exposed to risks and abuse, to the point of slavery.
“God does not discriminate,” he added, quoting from the Book of Psalms: “The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the orphan and the widow.”