VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday issued a strong appeal to the entire European Church — including the Vatican — to take in migrant families as part of the lead-in to the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy.
“Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing death on account of war and hunger, and who are traveling toward a hope for life, the Gospel calls us to be ‘neighbors’ to the smallest and abandoned, (and) to give them a concrete hope,” the Pope said Sept. 6.
He said it’s not enough to just say, “Courage, patience!” because hope “is combative, with the tenacity of those who go toward a safe destination.”
“Therefore, in the imminence of the Year of Mercy, I make an appeal to the parishes, to religious communities, to monasteries and sanctuaries of all Europe to express the concreteness of the Gospel and to welcome a family of refugees.”
Pope Francis made this call following the weekly recitation of the Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square, adding that the Vatican’s two parishes will also each take in a refugee family.
His remarks came in response to the news of the hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding Europe from the Middle East and Africa.
According to the BBC, more than 350,000 migrants have crossed into Europe in 2015. Many attempt the crossing in overcrowded and unseaworthy boats, leading to scores of deaths due to drowning and starvation.
The situation has reached a fever pitch in recent days, with thousands of migrants arriving in Germany and Austria on foot from Hungary.
The plight of those fleeing war and violence also received renewed attention in recent days, when a heartbreaking photo of a drowned Syrian toddler published last week by the British newspaper The Independent began widely circulating the Internet.
Aylan Al-Kurdi, 3, drowned, along with his mother and older brother, in a failed attempt to reach the nearby Greek island of Kos from Bodrum, their most direct passage into the European Union. The photos of his body washed up on the shore of Bodrum, Turkey, quickly went viral, leading many to criticize European leaders for not doing enough to help incoming migrants.
In his speech, Pope Francis extended his appeal to the European bishops, reminding them, “Mercy is the middle name of Love,” and cited the Gospel passage from Matthew: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
Before leading the faithful in the Angelus address, the Pope focused on the day’s Gospel from Mark, in which Jesus healed a man who was deaf and mute by touching his ears and tongue, saying, “Be opened” as he looked up to heaven.
“The first thing Jesus does is bring that man who is far from the flock [to him]: He doesn’t want to give publicity to the gesture he is about to make, but neither does he want his word covered by the voices of the din and the gossip of the environment,” the Pope said.
He pointed to Jesus’ gestures of touching the man’s ears and tongue in order to restore the relationship with a man who was “blocked” from communicating.
The first thing Jesus did, he said, was to re-establish contact with the man, “but the miracle is a gift from on high, for which Jesus implored the Father.”
One of the key lessons learned from this episode is that God isn’t closed in on himself, but is open and connects with humanity.
In his immense mercy, God “exceeds the abyss of the infinite difference between him and us, and he comes to us” by being made man himself, Pope Francis continued.
He said the Gospel is also directed to us, noting that, frequently, we are “folded and closed in on ourselves, and we create so many inhospitable and inaccessible islands.”
“Even the most basic human relationships sometimes create a reality incapable of reciprocal opening: the closed couple, the closed family, the closed group, the closed parish, the closed home,” he said.
Pope Francis closed his speech by praying that Mary would intercede in supporting all in their commitment to professing the faith and bearing witness to “the marvels of the Lord to those whom we encounter on our way.”
After leading pilgrims in the traditional Marian prayer, Francis recalled the life and work of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the anniversary of whose death was commemorated Sept. 5.
Mother Teresa, he said, gave witness with her life that “the mercy of God is recognized through our works.”