VATICAN CITY — Exploiting a fear of migrants and refugees for political gain increases the possibility of violence and discrimination and does nothing to build a culture of peace, Pope Francis stated in his message for World Peace Day 2018.
"Those who, for what may be political reasons, foment fear of migrants instead of building peace are sowing violence, racial discrimination and xenophobia, which are matters of great concern for all those concerned for the safety of every human being," the pope stated in the message, which was released by the Vatican Nov. 24.
The pope chose "Migrants and refugees: Men and women in search of peace" as the theme for the celebration Jan. 1, 2018. The message is delivered by Vatican nuncios to heads of state and government around the world.
Presenting the message to the media, Father Bruno Marie Duffe, secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said, "It is clear peace begins with saving lives and taking care of people who are trying to escape wars, discrimination, persecution, poverty and climate disasters."
As work continues on the U.N. Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, Pope Francis urged the international community not to surrender "to cynicism and to the globalization of indifference."
Countries at the U.N. General Assembly voted in 2016 to develop the compacts; after meetings around the world, a draft of each compact is scheduled to be released in February and a final vote is scheduled for September 2018.
In his message, which was signed Nov. 13, the feast of St. Frances Cabrini, patron of migrants, Pope Francis stated thinking about peace naturally meant thinking about "those who most keenly suffer its absence."
International organizations estimate there are some 250 million international migrants around the globe and that about 22.5 million of them are refugees, who have fled war, violence or persecution.
In their search for a place where they can live in peace, the pope said, many are "willing to risk their lives on a journey that is often long and perilous, to endure hardships and suffering, and to encounter fences and walls built to keep them far from their goal."
Pope Francis acknowledged the right and obligation of countries to protect their borders and wisely allocate their resources, including those dedicated to resettling migrants and refugees. But the pope also insisted that basic human decency requires sheltering those whose dignity is at risk.
Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, undersecretary of the Migrants and Refugee Section of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, said the "prudence" Pope Francis is calling for involves discernment and wise direction. He compared it to the responsibility parents exercise in running a household.
"Prudent parents respond and allocate resources wisely," he told reporters. "If resources are inadequate, they adjust goals. They obviously do not expel members who seem overly needy. What kind of family would do that? And yet that is what the human family sometimes seems to do to asylum seekers and refugees."
In the message, the pope also wrote that welcoming migrants and refugees contributes to peace and benefits host countries.
Migrants and refugees "do not arrive empty-handed. They bring their courage, skills, energy and aspirations, as well as the treasures of their own cultures; and in this way, they enrich the lives of the nations that receive them," he stated.
When people in need are welcomed, "seeds of peace" begin to sprout, the pope wrote. "Our cities, often divided and polarized by conflicts regarding the presence of migrants and refugees, will thus turn into workshops of peace."
Pope leads prayer service for peace in South Sudan, Congo
VATICAN CITY — Although it was not possible to visit South Sudan as he had hoped, Pope Francis said that "prayer is more important, because it is more powerful. Prayer works by the power of God for whom nothing is impossible."
With hundreds of women and men from dozens of religious orders, with migrants from Africa and representatives from a number of Christian churches and a variety of religions, the pope presided Nov. 23 over an evening prayer service for peace in South Sudan and Congo.
On the cross, the pope said, Jesus "took upon Himself all the evil of the world, including the sins that spawn and fuel wars: pride, greed, lust for power, lies."
The pope's brief reflection at the service ended with a series of prayers that began: "May the risen Lord break down the walls of hostility that today divide brothers and sisters, especially in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo."
Echoing the petitions read during the service, he prayed that God would "comfort those women who are the victims of violence in war zones and throughout the world."
"May He protect children who suffer from conflicts in which they have no part, but which rob them of their childhood and at times of life itself," he prayed. Then he added, "How hypocritical it is to deny the mass murder of women and children! Here war shows its most horrid face."
The morning after the prayer service, the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development announced Pope Francis was sending financial aid to dioceses in Congo's Kasai region, where an estimated 3,400 people have been killed there in recent months.
— Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service