The Church celebrates Sunday, January 15th, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. This year, Pope Francis has chosen as its theme: “Child Migrants, the Vulnerable and the Voiceless.” This day has more than one hundred years and was established in 1914 by Pope Benedict XV.
As we all know, the issue of migrants has become a global emergency. According to data reported by the Foundation ISMU, there are over 181 thousand arrivals via the sea recorded in 2016 in Italy – an increase by 18% compared to the previous year. Of them, 25 thousand are children or youngsters, of which 14% unaccompanied. With this Day we are called to give voice and above all answers to these human beings, especially women and children, who are forced to flee and to leave everything in the hope of a better life. But what answers can we give? Our simple answer is a matter of common sense: humanity, generosity and competence.
First, we note that a lot of information that we are given or that we report are incorrect. This is often the responsibility of some media, but also our own, as citizens. Indeed, we have a duty to get the right information and not to judge based on the feel and appearance. Especially when it comes to issues so fundamental and sensitive, like those of life and safety of humans fleeing because they risked their lives and their safety.
From the information we receive and what we talk about, it seems that migrants and refugees are a large portion of the Italian population. Again according to information of ISMU Foundation, reported on a recent article by Il Sole 24 Ore, Italians believe that immigrants account for 30% of the population, whereas it is a mere 10%. Similarly, they have a perception of a larger Muslim presence, which is seen by many with some apprehension. Such wrong perceptions certainly do not help to address the issue of migrants, which requires the cooperation and goodwill of all, by international institutions, governments, up to us the citizens.
Then, there is we, the Christians. Especially us, we cannot shirk the duty of charity and we cannot be victims of fear, especially if unmotivated. We also need to overcome a narrow and unhistorical view of reality. The Christian vocation implies to shift from particularism to universality. Christianity is, by its nature, open to the world. It is not by chance that Christianity has adapted to many cultures and social systems, “to the ends of the earth”.
For this reason, let us follow Pope’s invitation and what was said prophetically by St. John Paul II at the beginning of his pontificate. Let us open the political and economic borders of our countries. Let us open vacant houses, parishes and religious institutes. And above all, let us open our hearts to our brothers and sisters who are suffering. We will realize once again the reality of the Gospel: if we join our forces, something beautiful and human will come out, as it happened with the five loaves and two fishes that were shared and distributed equitably, with the help of the Lord, and fed much people.
And let us also be faithful to our history. Already in 1914, Pope Benedict XV, wrote to the Italian diocesan bishops the circular letter “The pain and worries”, which requested to establish an annual day to raise awareness and funds in favor of Italian immigrants. Over the years, this prophetic initiative of the Pope, which was conceived in the context of the First World War, has evolved and has been adjusted to the circumstances, as it is today. Therefore, the pastoral action of the Church regarding the migration issue has a long history and considerable experience, and has always been a fundamental part of her Social Doctrine. We Christians must practice it and implement it in the world, according to the times and the moments.
History teaches that fear is always a bad counselor. Our fears, then, are relative. From the point of view of migrants, our fears are their hope. After all, if our European and Western culture now feels to be more fragile, insecure and threatened, it is also due to the fact that other peoples are finally claiming dignity and food for their children, after centuries of oppression and exploitation. What the Blessed Paul VI had indicated in the Encyclical Populorum Progressio is happening today. And today we understand better that “development is the new name for peace.”
Let us convert toward a soberer lifestyle, exercising concrete gestures of charity, rather than many forms of devotionism to the limit of faith that do not bring benefit to anyone, to our Christian path and our soul. A gesture of charity, a prayer, a different lifestyle can bring something nice, maybe a better life, to someone. Let us add a gesture of charity, some of our time, to a “Hail Mary” that we are required to do as penitence further to Confession. “Love covers a multitude of sins” – says the Scripture. We are a small drop in the ocean, said St. Mother Teresa. Yet now we can all see what the “little pencil in God’s hand” was able to do.
Today on the international stage there is a great opportunity to effectively address the phenomenon of migration. The new Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres led for many years the United Nations Agency for Refugees (UNHCR). His experience in this field is a very important factor and certainly weighed on his election. It is also something hopeful. The world, in its most important institution, seems to have finally decided to address decisively and without more referrals the humanitarian crisis linked to the emergency of migrants, which is a daily emergency. Guterres is also a practicing Catholic. We think he can combine his technical and political skills with the Christian humanism.
And let us not forget the work of mercy and prophetic action of our beloved Pope Francis, who decided to lead himself the office dedicated to the migrants of the new Congregation for Integral Human Development.
Let us pray and work as much as we can for our brothers and sisters, let us open our hearts to them, each of us according to our own ability, sensitivity, and skills.