Pope Francis: Taking a Stand for Refugees
Pope Francis has done it again! In a brief but historic visit to the Greek island of Lesbos, Pope Francis demonstrated in word and by deed that he took a stand with the refugees of the world; and by doing so, he merely reiterated his consistent and unequivocal support for the dispossessed of the earth today: the refugees, the migrants, the forcibly displaced, the other vulnerable and marginalized people.
“You are not alone!” he told the more than three thousand refugees at the Moria camp, on the island. Many of them face deportation under a new EU-Turkey agreement which states that those migrants (mainly Syrians) arriving illegally on the Greek islands after March 20th would be sent back to the country of their origin. Pope Francis acknowledged ‘the great sacrifice’ the people in the camp had made saying that he wished “to draw the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis”. He went on to say, “do not lose hope; the greatest gift we can offer to one another is love.”
His visit today – was a vivid reminder of his first Pastoral visit as Pope outside Rome on July 8th 2013, to the tiny Sicilian island of Lampedusa. In the midst of hundreds of migrants, he minced no words as he spoke to the rich and powerful the world over, “in this world of globalization we have fallen into a globalization of indifference. We are accustomed to the suffering of others, it doesn’t concern us, it’s none of our business.”
The Pope, the unfettered advocate he is, once again spoke directly from Lesbos to those who control the lives and destinies of others, “it is necessary, above all, to build peace where war has brought destruction and death, and to stop this scourge from spreading. To do this, resolute efforts must be made to counter the arms trade and arms trafficking, and the often hidden machinations associated with them; those who carry out acts of hatred and violence must be denied all means of support. Cooperation among nations, international organizations and humanitarian agencies must be tirelessly promoted, and those on the frontlines must be assisted, not kept at a distance.”
The care and concern for the refugees and other displaced people is a recurring theme for Pope Francis- and is central to his spirituality of reaching out to others. ” Refugees”, he stated, “are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and need to be treated as such.”
In a powerful message he took back with him twelve members of three Syrian families to the Vatican-where they will begin a new chapter in their lives- one of dignity and security. The significance of the fact that they are all Muslims will not be lost, in a world that seeks to build walls and not bridges. Speaking to journalists on his return to Rome this evening he said, “I have always said that building walls is not a solution. We saw walls during the last century and they did not resolve anything. We must build bridges. Bridges are built with intelligence, with dialogue, with integration”.
For those of our so-called “leaders” – who continue with their divisive agenda, hate speeches, promoting the arms race, war-mongering, discriminatory attitudes, racial practices and the obsessive desire ‘to build walls: to keep out others’- it is high time they take a cue from Pope Francis- and act likewise, before it’s too late!
*(Fr. Cedric Prakash sj, works with the Jesuit Refugee Service in the Middle East and is based in Beirut, Lebanon)