The Book of Leviticus tells us that not only were lepers banned from their villages, they also had to shout out «Unclean, unclean!» as they approached, to warn others of their presence. This mark of infamy was something that affected them deeply, that scarred their very conscience, to the point of becoming a sort of second nature, something they themselves accepted. We can project this contrast between the village and the leper through the centuries to our own day and age. Today, we are the village, our communities, the old Western countries, our economic system gone mad, even our Church, at times, when it becomes clericalised and unable to reach out, like Pope Francis would like it to do.
But our Western society, despite claiming to be inspired by the great principles of equality and fraternity, which are dear to the tradition of the Enlightenment, which was born and developed in Europe, the heartland of Christianity, seems to be living a huge lie. Apparently, it is willing to integrate outcasts (migrants, illegal immigrants, the homeless, convicts …) into the European and western village, but effectively it is unable to do so. And why is this? Because it should be looking into itself and questioning itself, its actions, what it is becoming and exporting to other regions of the world, but it doesn’t have the guts, or better, we don’t have the guts, to do so.
Migrants are the lepers of the twenty-first century, of the here and now. Society has no greater places of exclusion than the so-called “reception” camps, which, at times, are nothing less than modern-day “lagers”, places where we can confine and conceal our hypocrisy and our selfishness.
Extending the boundaries of our village to make room for the outcasts, updating its rules, becoming a true global village – this is the path that the Pope, today, has shown us once again, with his highly symbolic, yet also very concrete, visit. Because the Pope has said that he wants to give voice to those with no say in society, who are prisoners of an uncertain, even horrible, future … Extending the borders, knocking down the walls, globalising solidarity: these are the last scraps of dignity we can hang on to.
The world and the christless or, worse, listless and indifferent, West, prey to individualistic spiritualist fads, without a shred of charitable empathy, incapable of sharing and donating, must know that Jesus himself was cast out, rejected, forsaken. The Messiah himself, he who was awaited by the prophets (and not by the powerful, or those who just wanted vengeance), like a discarded stone. The child Jesus and the Holy Family of Nazareth lived like migrants, even refugees we might say, for many years before being able to return to their homeland.
Today Pope Francis has reminded us once again, with ever greater strength, that Jesus came to awaken the conscience of the outcasts of today, urging them to stop considering themselves as legitimately cast out, because God is on their side and they must never lose hope. Woe, instead, unto the inhabitants of the village, if they shut themselves inside their walls: woe to the Scribes and Pharisees of today.
Jesus has – once and for all – sanctioned the collapse of the rock on which the enclosed village is built, adorned with its modern evanescent and empty temples: “Not a stone will be left here standing”, unless it becomes a global, caring and open village, open to everybody in the name of our common humanity. We ask the Lord to give us the humility and courage to flatten the walls of the camp, open its gates and extend its boundaries, otherwise we ourselves, and our children before us, will be overcome and stifled by the unassailable fortresses we have raised.