Laudato Si’ and Caring for Migrants and Refugees

by Fr. Michael Czerny, S.J.

IMG_0548_pawel rakowski sj.jpg
This sculpture by Timothy Schmalz was blessed by Pope Francis and given to the Migrants & Refugees Section. To learn more about the artist and the sculpture, visit: https://migrants-refugees.va/2017/05/02/vision-bronze-angels-among-us/. Photo and video courtesy of Migrants & Refugees SectionRifugiati.

“There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. . . . We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. . . . The poor and the earth are crying out.[1]

Center of Concern has asked me what, from my perspective, has changed since the release of Laudato Si’, what has not, and what gives me hope.

From the very beginning of his papacy in 2013, Pope Francis has encouraged the Church to accompany all people who have to flee. He wept with the asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants huddled at Lampedusa and Lesbos, major transit points in Italy and Greece. He brought some Syrian refugee families back from Lesbos to live in the Vatican.

Compassion also marks how Pope Francis wove the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth together in his 2015 Laudato si’: On Care for Our Common Home. The encyclical had a positive impact on international gatherings from the World Meetings of Popular Movements to the Paris Treaty on Climate Change. It continues to inspire practical actions to reverse climate change or desertification and to promote and integrate the newly arrived. Welcoming migrants and refugees has even helped some communities to revitalize.[2]

When Pope Francis created a special Section on Migrants and Refugees (M&R), he decided to lead it personally; and he appointed Fr. Fabio Baggio, C.S., and me to manage it. This small, action-oriented Vatican office helps the Church worldwide to support those who endure forcible displacement due to conflict, natural disaster, persecution, or extreme poverty; it also supports victims of human trafficking. This is a tall order: today there are 250 million international migrants, of whom 22.5 million are refugees.[3]

The 2018 papal message for peace[4] describes two linked sets of four actions and four stages to respond truly to the needs of forced migrants. First, we need “to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate”. Second, there are four important phases of the journey: in the country of origin, in transit, in the destination, and possibly in returning to the country of origin.

This past year I have been blessed several times to witness compassion in action in parts of this journey:

On Easter, I went with the parish priest in Lampedusa to the harbor at 3:00 a.m. to meet a boatload of migrants from Africa. He and his parishioners equally divide every financial donation to meet the needs of the arriving migrants and of the local poor.

In August, on the border in Chiapas between Guatemala and Mexico, I saw poor families—once migrants themselves—share not only food but their very hopes with youth fleeing the violence in Central America.

Different forms of community-based sponsorship for refugee resettlement are taking place in several countries, including the United States.

For Pope Francis, this “Church without frontiers, Mother to All, spreads throughout the world a culture of acceptance and solidarity, in which no one is seen as useless, out of place or disposable.”[5]

The 2018 World Peace Day Message invites all to respond at the local and international level, and Pope Francis repeats the invitation in this brief and powerful video.

The Migrants and Refugee Section has published 20 action points to guide the response of Christian communities.[6] It has presented these points to the United Nations to influence the ongoing negotiation of a global compact for safe, orderly, and regular migration and another global compact on refugees. The process began with the New York Declaration of September 2016. In December 2017, I participated in the Stock-Taking Conference in Mexico and the High Commissioner’s Dialogue in Geneva, where I saw participating states paying real attention to the circumstances of the most vulnerable. The prospects for adoption of the global compacts in late 2018 are looking brighter.

This hopeful message of peace addresses all peoples, as the angels’ message was not only for the shepherds, but for everyone today. For “the Scripture reminds us: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing, some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it’” (Hebrews 13:2).

 

[1] Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, 25, 52, 246, available at http://w2.vatican.va/content/dam/francesco/pdf/ encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si_en.pdf.

[2] See, for example, https://thinkprogress.org/refugees-are-rejuvenating-dying-italian-towns-d403160e71be/.

[3] Of about 250 million international migrants around the world, 65.6 million are forcibly displaced and 22.5 million are refugees. Cf. U.N. International Migration Report, 2015. UNHCR Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2016.

[4] Message of Pope Francis for the 51st World Day of Peace 2018 Migrants and refugees: men and women in search of peace, available at http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20171113_messaggio-51giornatamondiale-pace2018.html.

[5] Message of Pope Francis for the 101st World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2015, Church without Frontiers, Mother to All, available at https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/migration/ documents/papa-francesco_20140903_world-migrants-day-2015.html.

[6] See https://migrants-refugees.va/20-action-points/.