January 25, 2016

VATICAN CITY - Welcoming thousands of migrants and refugees to the Vatican for a Year of Mercy celebration, Pope Francis urged them to resist everything that would rob them of hope and joy.

"Each of you is the bearer of a history, culture and precious values and, unfortunately, also often of experiences of poverty, oppression and fear," he said.

But the Jan. 17 gathering in St. Peter's Square "is a sign of hope in God. Don't allow yourselves to be robbed of hope and the joy of living, which spring from the experience of divine mercy."

According to the Italian news agency, ANSA, an estimated 7,000 migrants from 30 countries were present.

The group passed through the Holy Door of St. Peter's Basilica, following a three-metre tall, one-metre wide wooden cross made out of the wreckage of boats carrying migrants from northern Africa to Lampedusa, Italy's southernmost island.

The Holy Year celebration was but one example of the pope's recent speeches and actions on behalf of migrants.

The plight of migrants and refugees has been at the heart of his concern. Soon after his election in 2013, he went to Lampedusa to pray for migrants who had drowned trying to reach Europe and to meet those who made it safely.

In a new book, The Name of God Is Mercy, Pope Francis said, "We are called to serve Christ the crucified through every marginalized person."


"We touch the flesh of Christ in he who is outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge," the pope said.

He also took the message to his annual speech to diplomats accredited to the Holy See.

Cold indifference to migrants, the poor, the hungry and the persecuted must be overcome through the warmth of mercy, the pope said.

An "individualistic spirit" is growing in today's culture, causing indifference toward those who suffer, particularly migrants who only seek to "live in peace and dignity," he said in his Jan. 11 talk.

The pope made a special appeal on behalf of those fleeing war and religious persecution.

Such people often find themselves at the mercy of the "powerful who exploit the weak" or turn to human traffickers where they "may well lose their possessions, their dignity and even their lives."


Countries who are taking in migrants, he said, also face hardships and fears, especially due to the growing threat of international terrorism.

Despite the difficulties, the pope affirmed his conviction that Europe has the means to "balance between its twofold moral responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens and to ensure assistance and acceptance to migrants."

The cultural implications of migration also must be addressed, he said.

Without "sincere and respectful dialogue," growing diversity can lead to viewing others as enemies due to "closed-mindedness and intransigence."

The UN Refugee Agency has reported that at the end of 2014, the number of people forcibly displaced because of persecution, conflict and violence reached the highest number ever - 59.5 million compared to 37.5 million a decade ago.

The chief cause of the increase was the conflict in Syria.


The pope's concern for refugees is not just talk.

In September, the Vatican's St. Anne Parish welcomed a family of four from Damascus, Syria, providing an apartment, food and other assistance.

The parish of St. Peter's Basilica is hosting Eritrean refugees. A woman, whose husband is missing, a newborn and two of her other children are living in a Vatican apartment, As well, she is hosting another Eritrean woman and her child in the apartment.