On the Jubilee of Migrants and Refugees
Recent events have shocked us all to the realization of how cruel our world has become, how heartless we can in fact be towards each other. While there can be no doubt that ideologies and mistaken beliefs are involved, ultimately persons make decisions that bring about so much pain, misery and suffering.
The Philippines, for now, seems to be spared direct threats from ISIS and other purveyors of that kind of violence that has shaken the confidence of even powerful nations. We would be deluding ourselves, however, were we to overlook the fact that, in our midst, there is also a “deficit of mercy”.
In one of his homilies at the Domus Sanctae Marthae where, each day, he celebrates the Eucharist, Pope Francis described what it is to be merciful.
“Merciful men and women have a wide, wide heart: always forgiving others and thinking about their [own] sins. This is the way of mercy for which we must ask. But if all of is, if all people, individuals, families, neighborhoods, had this attitude, how much peace there would be in the world – how much peace in our hearts! Because mercy brings us peace. Always remember: ‘Who am I to judge? Have shame and enlarge your heart. May the Lord give us this grace.”
If this is what mercy demands, then surely, we are sorely lacking in mercy. We all fall short, by these standards. As we pass through the Jubilee Doors, whether these be of the patriarchal basilicas in Rome or of our own cathedrals and jubilee shrines, we must throw wide open the doors of our own hearts to welcome those we have left out because of enmity, grudges and gripes, even as we must ask to be shown mercy, first by God, and then by all those we have also wronged!
The world has witnessed an unprecedented phenomenon in contemporary history: the mass migration of peoples and the influx of refugees particularly in Europe, but in other parts of the world as well. It is understandable that concerns should be raised about the ability of States to cope with waves of migrants, but there can be no excuse for turning them away, and no justification for their ill-treatment. In November, 2014, Pope Francis met with refugees in Istanbul, and he had this to say:
“Refugees, such as yourselves, often find themselves deprived, sometimes for long periods, of basic needs such as a dignified home, healthcare, education and work. They have had to abandon not only their material possessions, but above all their freedom, closeness to family, their homeland and cultural traditions. The degrading conditions in which so many refugees are forced to live are intolerable! For this reason, we must do everything possible to eradicate the causes of this situation. I appeal for greater international cooperation to resolve the conflicts which are causing bloodshed in your homelands, to counter the other causes which are driving people to leave their home countries, and to improve conditions so that people may remain or return home. I encourage all who are working generously and steadfastly for justice and peace not to lose heart. I ask political leaders to always remember that the great majority of their people long for peace, even if at times they lack the strength and voice to demand it.”
In the Philippines, the problem of refugees and migrants is the problem of all displaced persons, whether internally or internationally. And the immediate challenge to officials and citizens of the State, as well as to the sons and daughters of the Church, is to see to the living conditions of those who already suffer immensely from the mere fact of being forced to leave their homes and familiar environs.
In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI called attention to the fact that while the long-term causes of misery and privation have to be addressed, the immediate needs of those who suffer must be urgently paid heed. In our own country, this refers to the needs of members of indigenous cultural communities and others who are displaced by the heartless pursuit of capitalist projects, armed conflict or the sheer indifference of our society, led by the government, to the plight of the marginalized.
We conveniently tucked street-dwellers away when Pope Francis came and did the same when world leaders assembled for APEC only recently. But we cannot go on hiding the poor, the homeless and the displaced. This is no solution that benefits them. This is window-dressing that gives false and misleading appearances, but the problems remain, and they challenge us to be merciful.
After all, mercy is not some fleeting sentiment or passing emotion. It is a decision to be open to the hurts, the wounds, and the grief of those who suffer. Earlier, of refugees, we wrote that we have had a beautiful tradition of welcoming the oppressed from other lands and offering them succor, a haven, even if only temporary, from the tedium of flight and journey. We must, in our treatment of refugees, be true to this tradition. This, ultimately, is the most profound dimension of the much-vaunted hospitality of the Filipino! Mercy necessarily calls forth hospitality!
In a moving exchange with refugee children on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2014, Pope Francis, in characteristic fashion, concluded his chat with the refugee children with these words:
“Don’t ever allow the past to determine your lives. Always look to the future, work hard and make efforts to achieve what you want. But you must understand this: violence cannot be overcome by violence. Violence is overcome by peace! By peace, by working with dignity to help your homeland to move forward. My heartfelt thanks for your welcome!”
Simple words, indeed, but they lay down the agenda for all whom we now call on to be agents, mirrors and heralds of the Gospel of Mercy.
When we open our hearts, our homes, our business enterprises and the practice of our professions to those who come to our shores or those who move into our cities and towns from the hinterlands and places of conflict, we allow them to look to the future.
When we resolutely address the causes of violence with thoughts and deeds of thoughtfulness, no matter how tedious and trying the endeavor may be, we are overcoming violence – often the cause of the displacement of peoples, we are overcoming violence by peace.
And when we lend our strength to those wearied from running, and hiding, protecting themselves from the elements as well as from the arrant cruelty of those to whom they have done no wrong, then we allow them to move forward into lives of dignity and of promise.
We, your bishops, pray that the Jubilee Year of Mercy will be an unforgettable year for all of us: for those who show mercy, and for those to whom mercy is shown. We end with a beautiful prayer passed on to us by our elders that we would do well to recite very frequently especially this year and to move us to action: “That mercy I to others show, that mercy show Thee to me.”
From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, January 17, 2016
(SGD)+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan