Last August 28, the world was shocked of the news about the 71 refugees including four children found dead in the back of an abandoned freezer truck in Austria. On September 2, the picture of a 3-year-old Aylan al-Kurdi, drowned dead, in his Syrian family’s attempt to reach Greece from Turkey, provoke a wave of public sympathy for refugees. These are just the few among the many horrific incidents of the fate of migrants and refugees unknown to many. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) as of January 2015, 38 million people are displaced by conflicts/wars and about 19 million in 2014 are displaced by climate disasters. They are classified as political, economic, and climate refugees. However, beyond all these classifications they are first and foremost human beings endowed with rights to live with dignity.
In front of this dehumanizing situation, believing in the appeal of Pope Francis to all of us working in the vineyard of the Lord, let me just resonate his words during the Angelus of September 6, 2015.
“Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees who flee death from war and hunger, and who have begun a journey moved by hope for survival, the Gospel calls us to be “neighbors” of the smallest and the abandoned, and to give them concrete hope. It’s not enough to say, “Take heart. Be patient”…. Christian hope has a fighting spirit, with the tenacity of one who goes toward a sure goal.”
“Therefore, as the Jubilee of Mercy approaches, I make an appeal to parishes, religious communities, monasteries and shrines throughout Europe, that they express the Gospel in a concrete way and host a refugee family. A concrete gesture in preparation for the Holy Year of Mercy. May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every shrine of Europe welcome one family, beginning with my Diocese of Rome.”
Knowing of the urgency of the situation and the dire need for an efficient response, Pope Francis appealed once again to the members of the US Congress encouraging them with these words:
“Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12)
As People of God, we are challenged to live and incarnate the motherhood of the Church especially in this moment of unthinkable crisis. We are called as a pilgrim church (ecclesia viatorum) to accompany those who are sufferings with patience in our prayers and concrete works of mercy. As members of this grand family of St. Camillus, we are challenged to share the mercy of God to those who are sufferings like a “mother caring for her only sick child”. Let us always be reminded by the gospel passages that St. Camillus himself embraced in his entire life. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Mt 25:35-36). “Go and do the same.” (Lk. 10, 37).
This crisis is not demanding our legal obligations nor defending our sovereign territory from invasion. Rather, how would right relationships (justice) as one family of God respond to this massive displacement of people brought about by conflicts and disasters? If people are forced to leave their homeland because of evident threats to their lives and their human dignity, then they have a moral claim on our care and hospitality. If we put ourselves into the shoes of our displaced brothers and sisters, then solidarity makes sense to our lives and to the lives of those who are most vulnerable and in need. It is also with great joy to know and inform you that some provinces (Austria, North Italy and Sicilian-Neapolitan) are fully engaged in the situation and started with concrete initiatives of offering hospitality to these families in diaspora.
The situation calls us not to panic and entertain thoughts of serious threat to our security in our homeland. Rather, it calls us to reflect and appraise the immense possibility of our charism as our gift to the Church. The Consulta has reflected on this matter during our meeting on 29 September 2015 and encourage our confreres to act in the spirit of teamwork. Let me just present to you some our thoughts on this concern.
- While the situation is so complex, let us trust the wisdom of our political leaders who are threshing out comprehensive plans to confront this exigency.
- Get in touch and be informed of the initiatives of your local church (diocese/parishes) and the local government agency concerned for guidance.
- Discuss the matter at the level of the province, delegations (through the Council Administration) and local communities.
- Offer hospitality to refugees in our non-residential (religious community) structure such as nursing homes, hospitals, parish/ socio-pastoral centers, etc.
- Coordinate initiatives to your major superiors, to the local church, to the local government and to the office of communication of the General Council.
- Provinces and delegations who are not directly affected by this crisis, you are encouraged to help the initiatives of our confreres in different places through your prayers, financial support, and personnel where it is possible.
Through the intercession of our beloved founder St. Camillus de Lellis, and the maternal protection of our Lady Health of the Sick and the blessings of our Almighty Father, may all of us be inspired to carefully read the signs of the times and act accordingly with due respect to these families in diaspora by giving them back their dignity.
Rome, October 1, 2015
Fr. Leocir Pessini
Fr. Aristelo Miranda
Consultor for Ministry