BY Ian Dunn | September 13 2013 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Welcome them with open arms

Pope Francis calls on Western countries to help Syrian refugees and tackle poverty

Pope Francis has called on Western countries to welcome Syrian refugees with open arms, and do more to show solidarity with the poor.

Speaking at an assistance centre for foreign refugees in Italy on Tuesday, Pope Francis said: “Charity that leaves a poor person just the way he is does not suffice.

“True mercy, that which God gives us and teaches us, asks for justice, asks that the poor person finds the way to be poor no more,” the Holy Father added. “Solidarity, this word that strikes fear in the more developed world, they try not to say it. It’s almost a dirty word for them. But it is our word!”


Human rights

During his visit, the Pope met with many refugees, including a Syrian family, one of whom, named Carol, gave a short address.

“Our human rights and our dignity are too often trampled by the indifference and superficiality with which we happen to be treated,” she said. “We have escaped from the horror, but we don’t yet feel safe. The Syrians in Europe feel a great responsibility to not be a burden, we want to be an active part of a new society.”

The Pope responded by saying ‘this, too, is a right’ and asked the people of the world to accompany the refugees of Syria on their journey. The UN estimates the on-going civil war in Syria has forced more than two million people from their homes.



Addressing the wider public, the Holy Father urged everyone in richer countries to ask if they were doing enough to help the poor.

“Do I stoop towards someone in difficulty or am I afraid to get my hands dirty?” he asked. “Am I closed inside myself, in my things, or am I aware of who needs my help? Do I serve only myself, or do I know to serve others like Christ, who came to serve even to the point of giving His life?”

The Pope said the poor were ‘privileged teachers of our knowledge of God; their fragility and simplicity unmask our egoism, our false sense of security, our purported self-sufficiency, and lead us to experience the nearness and tenderness of God.’

Pope Francis said the Church could do more as well, calling on religious orders to make a stronger commitment to the poor.

“Empty convents do not serve the Church so that they can be turned into hotels for earning money,” he said, referring to homes for religious men and women. “Empty convents are not ours, they are for the flesh of Christ, who are the refugees.”

Astalli, where Pope Francis was speaking on Tuesday, is a high-volume refugee centre run by the Holy Father’s own Jesuit order—more than 21,000 refugees, from regions including Afghanistan, Egypt, and sub-Saharan Africa, passed through Centro Astalli last year. Many of the undocumented migrants are Muslims fleeing violence in the Middle East and Africa. The centre, a branch of the Jesuit Refugee Service, offers three shelters, a language school, and health and legal services, as well as special care for victims of torture who need psychiatric or psychological care.

Following his visit to the centre, Pope Francis visited the nearby Church of the Gesù, mother church of the Society of Jesus. There, the Pope paid a brief visit to the tomb of Fr Pedro Arrupe, superior of the Jesuits from 1965 to 1983, who founded the Jesuit Refugee Service in 1981.

In July, Pope Francis visited refugees on the island of Lampedusa and stressed that ‘their condition cannot leave us indifferent.’

“We remember that when we heal the wounds of refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking, we are practising the commandment of love that Jesus has left us,” he said.

The Holy Father stated that love is practised also ‘when we identify with the stranger, with those who are suffering, with all the innocent victims of violence and exploitation.’




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