By Philippa Hitchen
In his new apostolic exhortation, ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’, or ‘Rejoice and Be Glad’, Pope Francis reflects on the call to holiness in a contemporary context. While looking back at the lives of saints and martyrs of the past, the Pope focuses on the way modern women and men can respond to God’s call through “small gestures” of love and compassion towards our neighbours in need.
In the third and central section dedicated to the Beatitudes, the Pope speaks about the vital work of defending the dignity of every person, in particular “the lives of the poor [….] the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged”.
Defending the dignity of every person
Each person seeking to follow God’s call to holiness has a special mission, he says, and it is wrong to claim that defending the lives of migrants is "a secondary issue compared to the 'grave' bioethical questions".
Throughout the past five years, the Pope has spoken out about the rights of migrants, condemning human trafficking, exploitation, racism and xenophobia. But what impact have his words had at policy making level, where migration is one of the most politically charged issues of our day?
Anne Gallagher is the new President of the International Catholic Migration Commission. An Australian lawyer specialising in human rights and gender issues, she is widely recognized as the leading global expert on international law regarding human trafficking.
She says “we’re in the fortunate position of having the Holy Father as the moral voice, giving leadership, giving encouragement and support to the international community, and I believe it’s making a huge difference”.
Message of hope and compassion
She says the Pope’s message is one of “hope and compassion and it’s very much needed at this time”. But she notes that “compassion needs to work in all directions, and it needs to be directed at everyone”.
Reflecting on the election of anti-immigration politicians, she says “it’s important for us to understand where the fear is coming from, to understand and appreciate that people have concerns and worries about their society and about their children’s’ future”.
Engaging with peoples' fears
The Catholic Church, Gallagher says, can “engage in a real dialogue with its people and with the broader community in relation to migration”, and to “how those fears can be openly and honestly addressed”.
She notes that all governments are struggling with balancing national security and migration issues. She says that over more than half a century there has been a real development of an international legal Human Rights framework that recognises the integrity of the human person, and the “inalienable rights” that governments must provide for.
Church provides courage, guidance, leadership
She describes that as “a massive step forward” but adds that “when there are clashing interests at stake, we need “to hold our ground”, looking to the Church for “courage, guidance and leadership”.