Sept. 29, 2019, has been declared World Day of Migrants and Refugees by Pope Francis. This day will be immediately followed by Respect Life and Social Justice Month in October, and then on Nov. 17, Pope Francis has declared the third World Day of the Poor. These three successive events within the calendar of our church can help us to see that as Catholics we are a “both/and” people. At the end of Pope’ Francis’ message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees he says:
“Dear brothers and sisters, our response to the challenges posed by contemporary migration can be summed up in four verbs: welcome, protect, promote and integrate. Yet these verbs do not apply only to migrants and refugees. They describe the church’s mission to all those living in the existential peripheries, who need to be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated. If we put those four verbs into practice, we will help build the city of God and man. We will promote the integral human development of all people. We will also help the world community to come closer to the goals of sustainable development that it has set for itself and that, lacking such an approach, will prove difficult to achieve.”
It is our task to consider how we may “welcome, protect, promote and integrate” the various groups of people who find themselves placed on the margins by society. When it comes to topics like abortion and euthanasia, how do we welcome those who are suffering and may feel as they have no choice but to prematurely end the lives of the vulnerable? How can we charitably and mercifully protect the lives of the unborn, the sick and elderly, as well as the families and communities around them. How do we promote all of their best interest and their good? And how do we ensure that they are not excluded from love and compassion but rather fully integrated into the community as equals?
We must also reflect on those four verbs with regards to the poor, the migrant, the religious minority, the person in prison or on death row, LGBT+ persons, persons and communities of color, and any other group of people who face unjust discrimination, who are excluded, face derision, and/or attacks on their dignity. We are called to welcome them with compassion, mercy and charity; protect them from injustice and attacks; promote their well-being and acceptance of their intrinsic dignity as human persons made in the likeness and image of God; and integrate them into the community, recognizing what gifts they have to offer and showing them the blessing of belonging.
Pope Francis ends his message for the third World Day of the Poor by saying:
“If the disciples of the Lord Jesus wish to be genuine evangelizers, they must sow tangible seeds of hope. I ask all Christian communities, and all those who feel impelled to offer hope and consolation to the poor, to help ensure that this World Day of the Poor will encourage more and more people to cooperate effectively so that no one will feel deprived of closeness and solidarity.”
It is our call as Christians to move out of our personal comfort zones and societal barriers and conventions so that we might ensure that every person from conception to natural death is seen as Jesus Christ among us and as an invitation to get to know him better by knowing and loving them more perfectly. We must welcome, protect, promote and integrate everyone we encounter, both individually and as a nation. Borders, identities, associations and anything that is used to “other” people must be confronted with a culture of encounter through love, mercy and justice.
For more information and resources for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, October Respect Life and Social Justice Month, and World Day of the Poor, go to the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice website: dbqarch.org/rlsj/formation and find the session that relates to your needs. The director of the Office of Respect Life and Social Justice, Mark Schmidt, is also available to come to your parish, school or community to offer presentations on these topics and others. Contact Schmidt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 563-556-2580 ext 287.