Care for refugees and displaced persons has been a consistent theme of Pope Francis, and CNS’s Cindy Wooden has some background:
“We are called to serve Christ the crucified through every marginalized person,” Pope Francis said in the new book, “The Name of God Is Mercy.”
“We touch the flesh of Christ in he who is outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge,” the pope continued. “That is where we find our God, that is where we touch our Lord.”
The U.N. Refugee Agency reported last June that at the end of 2014, the number of people forcibly displaced because of persecution, conflict and violence reached the highest number ever recorded; it had grown to “a staggering 59.5 million compared to 51.2 million a year earlier and 37.5 million a decade ago.” The U.N. estimated the number had surpassed 60 million by the end of 2015.
The chief cause of the increase was the conflict in Syria, a conflict that is ongoing and continues to send people fleeing.
In 2015, the U.N. reported, 244 million people, or 3.3 percent of the world’s population, lived outside their country of origin.
The plight of migrants and refugees has been at the heart of Pope Francis’ concern as pope. Soon after his election in 2013, he went to the Italian island of Lampedusa to pray for migrants who had drowned attempting to reach Europe and to meet those who made it safely and those who have welcomed them.
Meeting 11 January with ambassadors representing their nations at the Vatican, the pope made his concern for migrants and migration the key focus of his speech. While acknowledging the social and political challenges that come with welcoming migrants, Pope Francis insisted on the human and religious obligation to care for those forced to flee in search of safety or a dignified life.
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 because under Italian law, asylum seekers are not allowed to work for the first six months they are in the country. The parish of St. Peter’s Basilica is hosting Eritrean refugees. A woman, whose husband is missing, gave birth to her fifth child shortly after arriving in Rome. She, the newborn and two of her other children are living in a Vatican apartment; she hopes soon to embrace her other two children, who are now in a refugee camp in awaiting the completion of family reunification procedures. In the meantime, the woman is hosting another Eritrean woman and her child in the apartment.