Pope, Accompanied by Refugees, Says ‘The Christian Doesn’t Exclude Anyone’

Francis invited refugees to sit with him on stage at his June 22 audience.

(photo: CNA Instagram)

VATICAN CITY — Joined closely by just over a dozen refugees at his weekly public audience, Pope Francis said that in following Jesus’ example, the Christian excludes no one.

“Jesus teaches us not to be afraid of touching the poor and the excluded, because he is in them,” said the Pope during his Wednesday audience catechesis in St. Peter’s Square.

Just minutes prior to the Pope’s arrival, after making the rounds in the popemobile to bless and greet those present, he spontaneously invited 13 young refugees to join him on the stage before the public. They caught his attention with a banner that read “Refugees for a Future Together.”  

As they sat cross-legged in a row, divided into groups on either side of him for the duration of the hour-long audience, Pope Francis referred to them as family.

“They are our refugees, but so many consider them as excluded. Please, they are our brothers,” Pope Francis said to applause.

“The Christian doesn’t exclude anyone; he gives a place to all,” he continued.

During the address, Francis said that in meeting a poor person, the reaction can be one of generosity and compassion, in offering money. “But we avoid touching the hand. We throw it there. And we forget that it is the body of Christ!”

“Touching the poor person can purify us from hypocrisy and make us concerned for his condition,” he added.

Taking up again the theme of mercy during this week’s audience, Francis cited the evangelist St. Luke’s account of Jesus healing a faith-filled leper.

The Gospel passage tells the story of a man excluded by society, who is and even prohibited from entering the city, who enters anyway to seek out Jesus. He reaches out to Christ, saying: “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”

In the Gospel account, the leper is healed when Jesus answers, “I do will it. Be made clean,” the Pope said, acclaiming the man’s great faith.

“This faith is the strength that allowed him to break every convention and seek the meeting with Jesus,” Francis said. He explained that the leper’s plea shows that when reaching out to Christ, few words are necessary “when they are accompanied by full confidence in his omnipotence and goodness.”

“Entrusting ourselves to the will of God means, in fact, putting ourselves back in his infinite mercy,” he said.

The Pope let the audience in on a little secret, saying that he makes the leper’s prayer of “Lord, if you want to, you can make me clean” his own every night. “I pray five ‘Our Fathers,’ one for each of the wounds of Christ because Jesus cleansed us with his wounds,” he said, inviting all to do the same before going to sleep.  

“Jesus always listens to us,” he added.

Christ’s disposition in healing the leper and asking him to go quietly to a priest and bear witness to the facts shows us three things, said the Pope. First, he explained, God’s grace doesn’t seek sensationalism, but discretion, “patiently modeling our heart to the heart of the Lord.”

Secondly, in asking the leper to register his healing with a priest, he is readmitting the leper into society, added Pope Francis. And, finally, Jesus asks the man to bear witness to the miracle to the priest and, thus, the leper becomes a missionary.

Concluding the audience, Pope Francis greeted the refugees who had joined him on the stage, one by one, offering them rosaries.

A representative of the group told CNA that the refugees are being assisted by the Catholic charity Caritas in Florence, Italy.