(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis is urging us to take up the challenge of receiving and integrating, in the best possible way, the growing numbers of migrants and refugees arriving on our shores and across our borders.
In his message, entitled “Migrants and Refugees Challenge Us. The Response of the Gospel of Mercy” for this year's World Day of Migrants and Refugees which recurs on January 17, the Pope notes that migration is growing worldwide as the victims of violence and poverty increasingly flee their homelands in search of a better life.
“Today – he says – more than in the past, the Gospel of Mercy troubles our consciences, prevents us from taking the suffering of others for granted”, and asks us to respond with charity and with practical solutions that respect the human dignity of each person.
The Pope also points out that integration offers the possibility of mutual enrichment and that hospitality grows from both giving and receiving.
Tom Smolich SJ is the Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service which accompanies, serves and advocates on behalf of refugees and forced migrants.
He reflects on Pope Francis' message for World Refugee Day and tells Vatican Radio how JRS’s “Mercy in Motion” campaign aims to expand and strengthen education programmes for refugees as a concrete sign of commitment to the Jubilee Year of Mercy:
Listen to Linda Bordoni’s interview with Fr. Tom Smolich:
Fr. Tom Smolich notes that, in his message, Pope Francis captures three essential realities of migrants and refugees in our world today.
“The Holy Father begins by saying this is a structural reality – there are 60 million people who are refugees right now. People who are forced migrants either inside or outside of their own countries”.
He says that “a few years ago we may have been able to say ‘it’s happening here or it’s happening there and they’re not connected’ but Pope Francis is reminding us that this is part of our world right now: we cannot be citizens of the earth and not deal with the fact that people are on the move and that millions of people are on the move against their own will. How are we going to respond to that?”
“The Holy Father’s very powerful point in that response is that we are all brothers and sisters” he says.
Fr Smolich highlights the fact that in the final paragraph of the message the Pope says: ‘Dear brothers and sisters, migrants and refugees!’ – We are all one – he says - we all start out as children of God.
He points out that it is wrong to consider oneself different and distant from a migrant or a refugee because as the Pope says we are all children of God: “we have to begin from that graced moment”.
Fr Smolich says Francis is also calling us to put the Year of Mercy into motion, to put it into practice and to take responsibility for the safeguarding and wellbeing of our brothers and sisters.
The JRS Director goes on to talk about his organization’s “Mercy in Motion” campaign which is a direct response to the Pope’s call for commitment during this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
It was decided – he says – “to increase the number of folks that we serve through education by 100,000 – almost doubling the number we already serve”.
He explains that it takes resources to achieve this and that is where the campaign comes in: inviting people to join putting their “mercy into motion”. He says that so far JRS has met with a generous response from donors all over the world – old friends as well as new.
He says that JRS is very grateful the Pope himself has expressed support for the campaign.
Fr Smolich also speaks of why education is such a precious tool for refugees as well as being one of the basic human rights and of how it helps them rise up to the challenge of making a new life for themselves and making a huge difference in their individual lives.
“All of us have challenges, but the life of a typical refugee or migrant poses challenges that many of us who have not had to make that struggle can’t even imagine. Being able to think, to understand what others have to say, being able to write, perhaps speak a different language – the language of the country I am going to arrive in - makes a huge difference” he says.
Fr Smolich talks of having recently visited the island of Lesbos to see the work JRS are doing there and of having been very moved by an encounter with a Syrian man who said: “when I landed here you extended your hand, you didn’t have to do that”.
“That to me was one of those moments where the challenge that Pope Francis talks about not only made sense in a very visceral way, but it also said ‘this is a man who has been touched by this human encounter within this challenge’, and in a sense he could articulate what this experience was for him. This was someone whose education in that very small moment made a difference in his experience of what had happened, his experience of being connected to the folks he met”.
“Education does things like that in many moments that we can imagine”.
For more information on JRS click here.