Addressing pilgrims in Saint Peter’s Square during his Wednesday General Audience Pope Francis urged the faithful to offer welcome and care to refugees fleeing war, famine and poverty.
Pope Francis reflected on two particular corporal works of mercy – welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked – and said that the growing numbers of refugees fleeing war, famine and dire poverty calls us to welcome and care for these brothers and sisters.
Pope Francis spoke about the many stories of migration that are to be found in the Bible and on how, through the centuries, so many committed Christians have found generous ways of meeting the needs of people fleeing violence and injustice.
“Today – he said – the current economic crisis unfortunately fosters attitudes of closure instead of welcome”.
“In some parts of the world walls and barriers are being built. It appears that the silent work of men and women who, in different ways, do what they can to help and assist refugees and migrants, is being drowned out by the noise made by those who give voice to an instinctive egoism” he said.
And saying that closure is never a solution, the Pope said it actually ends up favouring criminal trafficking. The only solution, he said, is solidarity: “Solidarity with the migrant, solidarity with the foreigner…” Pope Francis reiterated that this is a commitment that we must all make: “no one excluded”.
“Dioceses, parishes, religious institutes, organisations and individual Christians: we are all called to welcome our brothers and sisters who are fleeing war, hunger, violence and cruel conditions of life” he said. And setting aside his text, Pope Francis told the story of a lady who was approached by a refugee asking directions for the Holy Door. The man, the Pope said, was dirty and barefoot but wanted to go to St. Peter’s Basilica to cross the holy threshold. The woman took stock of his bare feet and called a taxi, but the taxi driver initially didn’t want him on board because he was ‘smelly’. The taxi driver ended up boarding the woman and the man who, during the drive, told his story of pain, war, hunger and migration.
Upon destination, Pope Francis recounted that the taxi driver, the same man who initially didn’t want the refugee to board his taxi because he was ‘smelly’, refused to accept payment for his service from the woman because he said: “It is I who should pay you because thanks to you I have listened to a story that has changed my heart”.
The Pope continued saying that the woman was well aware of the pain of a migrant because she had Armenian blood and knew the suffering of her people. “When we do something like that initially there is some discomfort – ‘a smell’ – but at the end, a story like this brings fragrance to our soul, and changes us. Think about this story and think what you can do for refugees” he said.
So too, ‘clothing the naked’ he said, increasingly means caring for those whose dignity has been stripped from them, and working to ensure that it is upheld and safeguarded. And this, he explained, means literally giving clothes to those who have none, but it also means thinking of women whose bodies are exploited by human traffickers and of the many other ways people – even minors – are used as a form of merchandise.
“Having no job, no home, no just salary is also a form of nakedness, as is suffering discrimination because of race or faith. These are all forms of ‘nakedness’ that we Christians are called to act upon” he said.
As followers of Christ, Pope Francis concluded, may we never close our hearts to those in need. By being open to others, our lives are enriched, our societies can enjoy peace and all people can live in a way befitting their dignity.