Migrants and Refugees in Search of Peace - Signs of the Time

By Scott Wright

We begin this 2018 New Year with a word of thank you to each of our supporters! We are inspired by the many ways that you bring a measure of justice and compassion, of healing and reconciliation to a broken world and those most in need of solidarity. Every year for the past five years on January 1, Pope Francis offers a World Day of Peace message to the world, a tradition which Pope Paul VI began in 1968. This year’s World Day of Peace message invites us to build bridges, not walls, and to welcome the migrant and refugee in our midst. Let us embrace that challenge with joy, knowing that we are bound to each other by our common humanity, our common home, and a common dream of a peaceful world shared by all.

As we begin this New Year, 2018, we are keenly aware of the many challenges we face as a human family, from the threat of global warming to the threat of a global war. These are “signs of the time,” signs of the challenges we face together as a human family, but also signs of God’s presence in the “cry of the earth” and the “cry of the poor,” calling us to greater justice and mercy. Every year, since 1968, the pope issues a World Day of Peace message on January 1. In recent years, Pope Francis has reflected on global challenges to peace, from human trafficking and slavery, to the ravages of poverty and war. He has affirmed fraternity and solidarity as the foundation and pathway to peace, and invited us “to make active nonviolence our way of life.”

In his fifth and most recent World Day of Peace message, Pope Francis calls our attention to still another crisis, the global crisis of migration, and calls us, “in a spirit of compassion, to embrace all those fleeing from war and hunger, or forced by discrimination, persecution, poverty and environmental degradation to leave their homelands.”

Over the past few years, we have witnessed the tragic flight of people displaced by violence and war in their homelands, from Syria to Myanmar, and crossing borders and sometimes seas to become refugees in a foreign land. Their suffering and plight are the human face of the consequences of persecution and violence, often rooted in conditions “of growing poverty caused by environmental degradation.” They are “war” refugees, but also “climate” refugees, and their anguished faces, especially the faces of the children, hold up a mirror to us and lay a claim on our lives to respond in compassion and solidarity.

Over the past year, closer to home, we have witnessed the tragic plight of Central American and Mexican families fleeing extreme violence in their homelands, to seek asylum in the United States. We used to be a nation proud of our immigrant roots, and able to recite by heart the message on the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” These immigrant families, many of whom are in danger of losing their temporary protective status (TPS), and the children who crossed the U.S. - Mexico border a decade or two ago with their immigrant parents to become today’s “Dreamers”, invite us to remember the dream of every immigrant family, and the heritage we need to remember and proudly reclaim.

In his World Day of Peace message, Pope Francis says: “All indicators available to the international community suggest that global migration will continue for the future. Some consider this a threat. For my part, I ask you to view it with confidence as an opportunity to build peace.” In the face of a growing sense of nationalism and isolationism, migrants and refugees remind us that we all belong to one human family, and this sense of family and belonging are at the heart of solidarity. Migrants and refugees do not arrive empty-handed: they bring “courage, skills, energy, and aspiration,” as well as “the treasures of their own cultures,” and in this way “they enrich the lives of the nations that receive them.”

This year, the Missionary Society of St. Columban will celebrate 100 years of the founding of their missionary order. In those one hundred years, Columbans have traveled the globe and encountered people of many lands, cultures and religions. Those cross-cultural encounters and inter-religious dialogues are at the heart of solidarity, and “the things that make for peace. As St. Columban said: “A life unlike your own can be your teacher.”

In that spirit, the 2018 World Day of Peace message invites us “to build bridges, not walls,” and “to welcome the migrant and refugee in our midst.” We have a Gospel duty “to recognize and defend the inviolable dignity of those who flee real dangers in search of asylum and security.” Let us embrace that challenge with joy, knowing that we are bound to each other by our common humanity, our common home, and a common dream of a peaceful world shared by all.