by Hannah Brockhaus
When we perform the corporal works of mercy – specifically welcoming the stranger in the form migrants and refugees – we are welcoming Christ in them, and helping to restore their full dignity as humans, Pope Francis said Wednesday.
“These works, in fact, make evident that Christians are not tired and lazy in waiting for the final encounter with the Lord, but every day go out, recognizing his face in the many people asking for help.”
Continuing his reflection on the corporal works of mercy, the Pope’s catechesis during his Oct. 26 general audience centered on Matthew 25:35-36: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me.”
The works of mercy related to strangers are “timelier than ever,” he said, adding that “the economic crisis, armed conflict and climate change drive many people to emigrate.”
“However, migration is not a new phenomenon,” but one that belongs to the “history of humanity,” he noted, adding that to think that migration is only a contemporary problem shows a “lack of historical memory.”
“The history of mankind is the history of migrations in all latitudes, there is no people that has not known the phenomenon of migration.” The solution, then, is solidarity in performing the works of mercy, the Pope said.
“Today, the context of economic crisis unfortunately favors the emergence of attitudes of closure and not welcome. In some parts of the world walls and barriers arise,” he said.
“Closure is not a solution, in fact, it ultimately benefits criminal trafficking. The only solution is that of solidarity.”
Pope Francis explained that clothing the naked – while it certainly means giving clothes to those who have none – can also include helping victims of trafficking and anyone who has fallen victim to the use of the human body as a “commodity.”
Also, those who “do not have a job, a house, a just wage,” or those who are discriminated against because of their race or faith, “are all forms of ‘nudity’ before which we as Christians are called to be attentive, vigilant and ready to act.”
The Pope referenced St. Frances Cabrini as an example of someone who dedicated her life to migrants in the U.S., pointing out that the Christian commitment in the area of migration is as urgent today as it was in the past.
“Even today we need such testimony because mercy can reach many in need,” he said.
“It is a commitment that involves everyone, without exception. Dioceses, parishes, institutes of consecrated life, associations and movements, as individual Christians, we are called to welcome the brothers and sisters fleeing war, famine, violence and inhumane living conditions.”
Francis also talked about the many examples of refugees and migrants in the Bible, including Abraham, called to leave his country by God; the people of Israel, who were in the desert for 40 years after being freed from slavery in Egypt; and the Holy Family, who had to flee Herod.
“Dear brothers and sisters,” he urged, “do not fall into the trap of closing in on ourselves, indifferent to the needs of brothers and worried only about our own interests.”
All together, we can be a “great strength of support for those who have lost home, family, work and dignity,” he said.
“And to clothe the naked, what is it but to restore dignity to those who have lost it? It is precisely to the extent that we open ourselves to others that life becomes fruitful, society regains peace and people recover their full dignity.”