By Seàn-Patrick Lovett
There was something even more international than usual about the celebration in St Peter’s Basilica this Sunday.
The sounds were those of the youthful and multilingual voices of the Hope choirs. The colors were those of the flags and multicultural costumes of the 49 nations represented.
Over 70 countries were present in the person of their Ambassador to the Vatican. And some 460 priests from all over the world concelebrated with the Holy Father.
Invitation and welcome
Pope Francis said he wanted to celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees with a Mass of invitation and welcome. He based his reflections during the homily on the episode in St John’s Gospel where the disciples ask Jesus where He lives, and He responds: “Come and see.”
This reply is addressed to us today, said the Pope: “It is an invitation to overcome our fears so as to encounter the other, to welcome, to know, and to acknowledge him or her”.
Protect, promote and integrate
But authentic encounter doesn’t end with welcome. Pope Francis reminded us of the three actions he spelled out in his Message for this Day: “to protect, promote and integrate”.
While new arrivals need to “know and respect the laws, culture and traditions of the countries that take them in”, local communities need to understand “the hopes and potential of the newly arrived, as well as their fears and vulnerabilities”.
Fear of encounter
It is not easy to enter into another culture, said the Pope, to understand the thoughts and experiences of people who are so different from us.
“Local communities are sometimes afraid the newly arrived will disturb the established order…and the newly arrived are afraid of confrontation, judgement, discrimination, and failure”.
Being afraid is not a sin
“Having doubts and fears is not a sin”, said the Pope. “The sin is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection”.
The sin, he continued, “is to refuse to encounter the other”. Because every encounter is “a privileged opportunity to encounter the Lord”.
Pope Francis concluded by expressing the hope that “we may all learn to love the other, the stranger, as ourselves”.