VATICAN CITY — Amid questions over whether Western nations will re-evaluate their migrant policies in the wake of Friday's deadly attacks in Paris, Pope Francis offered a reminder over the weekend that refugees are more than statistics: They are children of God, each with his or her own inherent dignity.
“Behind these statistics are people, each of them with a name, a face, a story, an inalienable dignity, which is theirs as a child of God,” the Pope said Saturday at an audience marking the 35th anniversary of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).
In line with the hopes of JRS founder Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe, the Holy Father said the refugee service should “meet both the human and the spiritual needs of refugees, not only their immediate need of food and shelter, but also their need to see their human dignity respected, to be listened to and comforted.”
Pope Francis made these remarks one day after 129 people were slaughtered and more than 300 wounded in Paris by more than half a dozen terrorists from the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, which controls half of Syria and a third of Iraq.
Due to a Syrian passport found at the scene of the attacks, authorities believe at least one of the terrorists had passed through Greece, an entry point for many of the thousands of refugees into the European continent, according to Agence France-Presse. Meanwhile, an Algerian asylum-seeker has been detained in Germany in connection to the attacks, according to The Associated Press. These developments come after months of escalating security concerns that terrorists are crossing into Europe alongside innocent migrants.
ISIS itself has warned refugees against fleeing its so-called caliphate for Europe, decreeing that those refugees may be considered “apostates,” punishable by death, and alleged that the refugees would be forcibly converted to Christianity and suffer other “deceptions from the Crusaders.”
Until now, the European Union has been working on policies to accommodate the refugees, enacting a quota policy earlier this year to disseminate the migrants across the continent. In the wake of the Nov. 13 attacks, there is speculation over whether nations will re-evaluate their own refugee policies.
During Saturday's audience with JRS, the Pope acknowledged the mass increase in the number of refugees fleeing Africa, Asia and the Middle East in what has become the largest-scale exodus since World War II.
He lauded JRS' presence in conflict and post-conflict regions, recalling the agency's mission: “to accompany, to serve and to defend the rights of refugees.”
“I think especially of your groups in Syria, Afghanistan, the Central African Republic and the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where you accept men and women of different religious beliefs who share your mission,” he said.
The Holy Father went on to praise JRS' focus on education for migrant children, such as the planned initiative for the Year of Mercy entitled “Global Education,” with the motto “Mercy in Motion.”
Education, Pope Francis said, “provides refugees with the wherewithal to progress beyond survival, to keep alive the flame of hope, to believe in the future and to make plans.”
By providing education, JRS is helping “refugees to grow in self-confidence, to realize their highest inherent potential and to be able to defend their rights as individuals and communities,” the Pope added.
“For children forced to emigrate, schools are places of freedom,” he said.
JRS was established in 1980 by Father Arrupe, then superior general of the Society of Jesus and a survivor of the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bomb, an event in which he witnessed “the scope of that tragic exodus of refugees,” Pope Francis observed.
The Holy Father concluded his address by calling those working with refugees to reflect on the Holy Family, as well as Christ's words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
“As you persevere in this work of providing education for refugees, think of the Holy Family, Our Lady, St. Joseph and the Child Jesus, who fled to Egypt to escape violence and to find refuge among strangers,” he said.
“Take these words with you always, so that they can bring you encouragement and consolation.”
Register staff contributed to this report.