“Think of the Holy Family — Mary, Joseph, and the Child Jesus — on their long journey to Egypt as refugees, fleeing violence and finding refuge among strangers.” Pope Francis recalled something even Christians risk forgetting sometimes and that is that their God-made-man was a migrant; he was born into poverty and he was saved because there was a country that did not put up walls to keep refugees out. The Pope did so concluding his speech at the meeting of the European Confederation and World Union of Jesuit Alumni and Alumnae, held in Rome, on the theme: “Global Migration and Refugee Crisis: Time to Contemplate and Act”.
Receiving them in the Consistory hall, the Pope emphasised that the migrant and refugee crisis is “the greatest humanitarian crisis after the Second World War.” “Tragically, at present, more than sixty-five million persons are forcibly displaced around the globe. This unprecedented number is beyond all imagination. The displaced population of today’s world is now larger than the entire population of Italy!”
But Francis urged people to look “beyond mere statistics” to “discover that refugees are women and men, boys and girls who are no different than our own family members and friends. Each of them has a name, a face, and a story, as well as an inalienable right to live in peace and to aspire to a better future for their sons and daughters.” Francis recalled that the World Union of Jesuit Alumni and Alumnae was created in honour of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, Jesuit Superior General and founder of the Jesuit Refugee Service, the organisation created in response to the situation the South Vietnamese “boat people” were facing.
“Sadly, the world today,” the Pope went on to say, “still finds itself embroiled in countless conflicts. The terrible war in Syria, as well as civil conflicts in South Sudan and elsewhere throughout the world, can seem irresolvable. This is precisely why your gathering “to contemplate and act” on the issue of refugees is so important.”
“More than ever today,” he added, “as war rages across God’s creation, as record numbers of refugees die trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea – which has become a cemetery – and refugees spend years and years languishing in camps, the Church needs you to draw on the bravery and example of Father Pedro Arrupe. Through your Jesuit education, you have been invited to become “companions of Jesus” and, with Saint Ignatius Loyola as your guide, you have been sent into the world to be women and men for and with others. At this place and time in history, there is great need for men and women who hear the cry of the poor and respond with mercy and generosity.”
Francis encouraged those present “to welcome refugees into your homes and communities, so that their first experience of Europe is not the traumatic experience of sleeping cold on the streets, but one of warm human welcome. Remember that authentic hospitality is a profound gospel value that nurtures love and is our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism.”
After pointing out the “disturbing truth” that about less than 50% percent of child refugees having access to primary education, only 22% percent of adolescents enrolling in secondary schools and less than 1% having access to a university education, the Pope cast everyone’s minds back to the experience Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus had, living as refugees. Finally, he echoed Jesus’ words: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me”.