ROME – Pope Francis on Sunday said that Christians cannot be indifferent and insensitive to the “tragedy” of poverty, “our hearts deadened” before the misery of innocent people.
“We must not fail to weep,” Francis said. “We must not fail to respond.”
Francis, the son of immigrants himself, also lamented that today’s world is increasingly “more elitist and crueler towards the excluded,” because developing countries are drained of their best resources – natural and human – to benefit “a few privileged markets.”
In addition, he said, “wars only affect some regions of the world, yet weapons of war are produced and sold in other regions which are then unwilling to take in the refugees generated by these conflicts. Those who pay the price are always the little ones, the poor, the most vulnerable, who are prevented from sitting at the table and are left with the ‘crumbs’ of the banquet.”
Francis’s words came in St. Peter’s Square during the Mass for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. The theme of this year’s message, released by the Vatican in May, is “It is not Just about Migrants.”
According to the United Nations Refugees office (UNHCR), over 70 million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes. Among them are nearly 25.9 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. The UN agency says one person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution.
In addition, according to the United Nations Migration office (IOM) there are an estimated 244 million international migrants globally, around 3.3 percent of the world’s population.
Francis said that the commandment is to “love God and love our neighbor,” and that these cannot be separated.
“Loving our neighbor as ourselves means being firmly committed to building a more just world, in which everyone has access to the goods of the earth, in which all can develop as individuals and as families, and in which fundamental rights and dignity are guaranteed to all,” the pope said.
Loving our neighbor, he continued, means to manifest concretely God’s love for them by drawing close to those who are mistreated and abandoned on the streets, soothing their wounds and bringing them to the nearest shelter.
Speaking about the theme for the message, Francis said that loving one’s neighbor and the day for migrants and refugees is not only about foreigners but “about all those in existential peripheries who, together with migrants and refugees, are victims of the throwaway culture.”
The pope began his homily by speaking about the many times in which God calls on those who follow him to care for the widow, the orphan and the foreigner, saying that even twenty-eight centuries later, the warnings of prophet Amos are relevant: Those who are at ease and seek pleasure without worrying about the ruin of God’s people should worry about not being invited to God’s banquet.
The widow, the orphan and foreigners, Francis said, are “often forgotten and subject to oppression. The Lord has a particular concern for foreigners, widows and orphans, for they are without rights, excluded and marginalized.”
For this reason, in the books of Psalms, Deuteronomy and Exodus God “warns” the Israelites to give them special care: “The reason for that warning is explained clearly in the same book: The God of Israel is the one who ‘executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing’” he said.
Loving those who are less privileged, Francis argued, is “required, as a moral duty, of all those who would belong” to the people of the God of Israel.
At the end of the Mass, accompanied by four migrants, Francis unveiled a recently installed sculpture depicting 140 migrants of all generations and different times in history. At the center, the wings of an angel are visible, which gives the name of the piece: “Angels Unaware.”
The sculpture was requested by the Vatican’s Migrants and Refugee section. Timothy Schmalz, the Canadian artist responsible for the 20-foot piece, told Crux that he was inspired by the Bible, more specifically, Hebrews 13:2 – Be welcoming to strangers and many have entertained angels unaware.
“What is being installed is not just bronze nor is it just art,” he said. “It’s an idea. An idea of welcoming. If you think about the whole design of St. Peter’s Square, with two extended arms reaching out, historically, the whole concept was considered that they were welcoming arms to welcome not only the pilgrims, but also for the tourists.”
Schmalz said he had strategically placed figures that are rarely seen in artwork in Rome, such as the African, the Jew, the Muslims or Sikhs. People from all over the world and from different religions, he said, are represented, and the sculpture is meant to remind the thousands who visit the square that they too are welcomed, no matter where they come from.
After the unveiling, Francis spent several minutes contemplating the sculpture, before greeting the migrants who revealed the sculpture, the artists, and the benefactors who made it possible.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
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