The Gospel challenges each of us to respond to today’s refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions. Michael Jackson popularized the song, “Man in the Mirror.” Whom do you see when you look at yourself in the mirror? Pope Francis has challenged us all in this Jubilee Year of Mercy to become “merciful, like the Father.” The person you see in the mirror determines your window to the world. Can you see out of your windows those who have borne the burden of human suffering and social injustice? “Biblical revelation urges us to welcome the stranger; it tells us that in so doing, we open doors (and windows) to God and that in the faces of others we see the face of Christ himself (Pope Francis, “Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees,” 2016).
What is your window to the world? Your outlook? Pope Francis locates this encounter with oneself, others, and the world in the concept of “integral ecology”: “a relationship . . . between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it” (id., Laudato Si’, 139). His vision calls for an ecological conversion with nature as its root, humanity as its heart and compassion as its core principle: “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home” (ibid., 13). “Men and women are still capable of intervening positively” (ibid., 58). “All is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good and making a new start” (ibid., 205).
One of the key features of this nexus is security in harmonious community, both as to a physically safe and healthy place to live and as to economic, political, and social circumstances that reflect and respect the dignity of the human person and foster human flourishing. At a minimum, this requires individual and joint efforts to guarantee basic rights. However, as Pope Francis reminds us, it requires that we look beyond protecting rights and do more. It requires that we care. Indeed, if we are to take integral ecology seriously, we must care for “our common home” as well as one another.
There have been many deprivations of such security in harmonious community, but the current refugee crisis signals one of the worst, with a record 65.3 million displaced men, women, and children who have fled war, political persecution, and lawlessness around the world, leaving their homes, livelihoods and, at times, other family members and friends behind. Of these, almost 20 million have undergone vetting by the United Nations as refugees and are ready to immigrate now.
If we who are people of faith are to rise above the madding crowd, we need to inform ourselves enough to counter negative attitudes about immigrants and refugees, beginning with the person we see in the mirror. How do we confront the enemy of misinformation and wrong assumptions, beginning with ourselves and then taking it to others? What changes might we make if we are to do more than stand on the sidelines to one of the greatest tragedies in human and ecological history? What concrete steps can we take individually and jointly through local, national, and global institutions, to respond impactfully? Integral ecology, and the judgment of history, rule out looking away. In short, we need to care, and to act upon the indissoluble links among us as we see the world, and ourselves, through the mirrors of their eyes:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.