Refugees challenge us to mercy: Pope's message

A group of Syrian refugees arrive on the island of Lesbos after travelling in an inflatable raft from Turkey. (A McConnell / UNHCR)
A group of Syrian refugees arrive on the island of Lesbos after travelling in an inflatable raft from Turkey. (A McConnell / UNHCR)

This Sunday, the Church will celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, responding to the theme initiated by Pope Francis: "Migrants and Refugees Challenge Us: the Response of the Gospel of Mercy".  Among the highlights of the weekend will be the 2016 Memorial Lecture of the Archdiocese of Liverpool’s Justice and Peace Commission, which will be given by Louise Zanré, the outgoing Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in the UK (JRS-UK).

Earlier this week, Pope Francis urged the faithful to remember that refugees and migrants are "people whose dignity is to be protected and who are capable of contributing to progress and the general welfare”. Last year, he endorsed the JRS campaign to provide educational services to 100,000 additional refugees by 2020 – ‘Mercy in Motion’. Through this education campaign for refugee children and youth, JRS is responding directly to Pope Francis' call to show concrete mercy, which “prevents us from taking the suffering of others for granted”.

The theme for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2016 was announced by Pope Francis last September. In his message, he linked it directly with the Jubilee Year of Mercy, saying that “the Gospel of mercy troubles our consciences, prevents us from taking the suffering of others for granted, and points out ways of responding which, grounded in the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, find practical expression in works of spiritual and corporal mercy.” He warned against complicity and indifference to the plight of people fleeing injustice and conflict, saying: “Migrants are our brothers and sisters in search of a better life, far away from poverty, hunger, exploitation and the unjust distribution of the planet's resources which are meant to be equitably shared by all. Don't we all want a better, more decent and prosperous life to share with our loved ones?” he asked.

Mutual enrichmentPope Francis greets refugees at JRS Italy

Louise Zanré’s lecture on Sunday will take as its theme ‘Overcome indifference and win peace’ and will develop many of the themes promoted by Pope Francis. Since being elected Pope in 2013, he has not only spoken frequently about the plight of refugees but has visited many JRS projects, including a centre in Rome and a refugee camp in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. His first trip outside of the Vatican was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, where he condemned the "global indifference" of the international community to the plight of migrants fleeing to Europe, many of whom died on the Mediterranean Sea.

“The presence of migrants and refugees seriously challenges the various societies which accept them,” Pope Francis said in his message for the World Day of Refugees and Migrants. “Those societies are faced with new situations which could create serious hardship unless they are suitably motivated, managed and regulated. How can we ensure that integration will become mutual enrichment, open up positive perspectives to communities, and prevent the danger of discrimination, racism, extreme nationalism or xenophobia?”

However, Pope Francis has also urged the international community to work to prevent the need for migration in the first place, saying that “the Church stands at the side of all who work to defend each person's right to live with dignity, first and foremost by exercising the right not to emigrate and to contribute to the development of one's country of origin ... This will demonstrate that solidarity, cooperation, international interdependence and the equitable distribution of the earth's goods are essential for more decisive efforts, especially in areas where migration movements begin, to eliminate those imbalances which lead people, individually or collectively, to abandon their own natural and cultural environment.” He also argued that public opinion should be “correctly formed, not least to prevent unwarranted fears and speculations detrimental to migrants,” a central tenant of the Jesuit Refugee Service which works not only to serve and accompany refugees but also to advocate on their behalf for them to have safe and legal ways to reach safety.

The full text of Pope Francis for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees is available here. Louise Zanré’s lecture on Sunday ‘Overcome indifference and win peace’ will take place at the Liverpool Archdiocese Centre for Evangelisation starting at 2pm. More details from s.atherton@rcaol.co.uk, tel: 0151 522 1080.