“A Heart Open to the Whole World”

Pope Francis blesses a cross during his weekly audience at the Vatican April 9. The cross is made from wooden boards recovered from the wreckage of boats carrying migrants from northern Africa to Lampedusa, Italy's southernmost island. (CNS photo/L'Osser vatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Francis blesses a cross during his weekly audience at the Vatican April 9, 2014. The cross is made from wooden boards recovered from the wreckage of boats carrying migrants from northern Africa to Lampedusa, Italy’s southernmost island. (CNS photo/L’Osser vatore Romano via Reuters)

Again and again, in the face of a migration crisis that affects every country around the world, Pope Francis has called on nations to greet immigrants and refugees not with closed doors, but with open hearts.

In July 2013, for his first official trip outside Rome, our Holy Father celebrated Mass on the small Italian island of Lampedusa near the waters of the Mediterranean Sea where over the past quarter century about 20,000 African immigrants have drowned. The pope said the tragic plight of those who died seeking a new life in Europe felt to him like “a thorn in the heart,” and he decried a “globalization of indifference” toward the suffering of immigrants.

Pope Francis in recent months has also decried the “inhumanity” that has caused hundreds of thousands of Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria to flee as refugees from rampaging Islamic State militants who have given them the choice to convert, pay a heavy tax or be killed. That wave of forced migration, he recently said, “impoverishes the Christian presence in the Middle East, land of the prophets, of the first preachers of the Gospel, of martyrs and many saints, the cradle of hermitages and monasticism.”

Our own nation’s southern border also became a focal point last year when it was reported that 60,000 unaccompanied minors have fled gang and drug violence and extreme poverty in Central America, seeking a new life in the United States. Yet many of these vulnerable youngsters ended up being victimized along the way, including various forms of human trafficking.

In his Message for the 101st World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which we will observe on Sunday, January 18, Pope Francis urges that instead of worldwide indifference, this global challenge of migration should be met with “the globalization of charity and cooperation.” Nations and international organizations need to work together to address this issue, he said, adding that the Catholic Church has a special role to play, because since its beginning, it has been “a mother with a heart open to the whole world, and has been without borders.” The Holy Father said that the Church sees the solution as not simply greeting migrants and refugees fleeing war and famine with “tolerance,” but instead with “a culture of encounter,” and treating them with solidarity and respect as children of God.

For this reason, agencies such as Catholic Charities in our area and across the United States have been on the front lines attempting to help immigrants. Following Jesus’ call to welcome the stranger, we see immigrants as brothers and sisters and fellow members of God’s family. That sentiment was at the heart of National Migration Week last January 4-10, which had as its theme, “We are One Family under God.”

But it is important that everyone in society remember that we all at some point in our family history were strangers who wished to be welcomed and that our nation has a legacy of welcoming newcomers. Such a culture of inclusion is historically what has made the United States great, making neighbors of strangers and welcoming their contributions to our country. Our history as a nation of people from every land has been enriched by the gifts, talents and ethnic heritage that immigrants have brought and continue to bring.

As Americans and as Christians, we are heralds of this blessing, calling others to remember also our common humanity, that we are all one human family. Thus, the bishops of the United States support government efforts to enact comprehensive immigration reform and policies that respect the rule of law, that protect human life and dignity and that do not tear apart families. As Pope Francis has said, we can no longer be indifferent to the plight of immigrants – they are our sisters and brothers.

The Holy Father concluded his recent message by encouraging migrants and refugees not to lose faith or hope. “Let us think of the Holy Family during the flight in Egypt,” he said. “Just as the maternal heart of the Blessed Virgin and the kind heart of Saint Joseph kept alive the confidence that God would never abandon them, so in you may the same hope in the Lord never be wanting.”