***The World Day of Migrants and Refugees has been an annual remembrance in the Roman Catholic Church since 1914. Tragically, the exploitation of migrants and refugees has continued through these years, as our shared and ongoing reflections on the unfolding immigration and refugee crisis on the southwest border of the USA demonstrate. But it is also important to remember that this is a global tragedy. Today, there are 70.8 million forcibly displaced people worldwide; 25.9 million of those are refugees and 3.5 million are asylum seekers. 57% of those refugees come from three nations: Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan. Nearly “1 person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution”. (https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html )
I have plenty of arguments with Pope Francis, especially related to gender and sexuality (for example, https://thinkprogress.org/pope-francis-says-gay-life-has-become-fashionable-and-is-hurting-the-catholic-church-e0f9392fcf2f/ ), but we happen to be in agreement on this issue. And in the spirit of listening across differences, and supporting liberation wherever I find it, I want to share just a few of his words that he issued to make the occasion:
“The most economically advanced societies are witnessing a growing trend towards extreme individualism which … is producing a ‘globalization of indifference’. In this scenario, migrants, refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking have become emblems of exclusion. In addition to the hardships that their condition entails, they are often looked down upon and considered the source of all society’s ills. … if it continues, anyone who does not fall within the accepted norms of physical, mental and social well-being is at risk of marginalization and exclusion. / For this reason, the presence of migrants and refugees – and of vulnerable people in general – is an invitation to recover some of those essential dimensions of our Christian existence and our humanity that risk being overlooked … . That is why it is not just about migrants. When we show concern for them, we also show concern for ourselves, for everyone; in taking care of them, we all grow; in listening to them, we also give voice to a part of ourselves … .” (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1e1Qz84xq3xK3qsECjqwp-IwPnUPaghuT/viewvia https://migrants-refugees.va/resource-center/world-day-of-migrants-refugees-2019/# )This reflection is especially significant in the context of how often community has been weaponized throughout human history, including and perhaps especially within the Christian tradition. Coercion is not a sustainable way to build community, and this includes threatening folks with exclusion on the basis of the natural and beautiful diversity of human experience. And on World Day of Migrants and Refugees, we are reminded of what that exclusion looks like in the world. It looks like concentration camps, detention centers, caravans, overcrowded boats, tent cities, and masses of desperate human beings.
Generally speaking, migrants and refugees don’t willingly choose to leave their homes; they have been excluded. They leave their homes because they are experiencing economic difficulties, their homes have been bombed, their families are starving, their crops have failed, or a natural disaster has upended their lives. And then, as Pope Francis reminds us, they end up in new places and too often find that they are “looked own upon and considered the source of all society’s ills.” They flee one danger only to find another. Here in the United States, loneliness and fear goes hand in hand with ethnocentrism, white nationalism, and violence, so that migrants and refugees, rather than being welcomed, are blamed and demonized. It does not have to be this way, and it should not be this way.
So I want to invite us to remember how counter-cultural it is for us to say that everyone is welcome. We can also look inside ourselves, at our own loneliness, and ask when it is we feel excluded, and when it is that we exclude. These aren’t simple or easy questions, but we aren’t looking for answers at the moment. We are simply holding the questions. We live in a lonely, violent world, but our world is also interdependent. “That is why it is not just about migrants. When we show concern for them, we also show concern for ourselves, for everyone; in taking care of them, we all grow; in listening to them, we also give voice to a part of ourselves … .”