Homily for World Day of Migrant’s and Refugees 2015. ‘Why is Pope Francis fascinated by Migrants..a consideration’

Mass for World Day of Migrant’s and Refugees, 18th January  2015

Jesuit Community, Church of St. Francis Xavier, Gardiner St, Dublin 1.

Words of Welcome

Today is set aside by the Church as World Day for Migrants and Refugees. This day has been celebrated for well over fifty years following growing concern about the plight of migrants worldwide. You might very well say that migration has nothing to do with me but as I welcome you here this evening I welcome especially those of you affected by migration.

At this stage you may be casting your eyes around the pews identifying those who you think are affected by migration. But let me welcome you who are the children of Irish parents who were born in England and were brought home to Dublin Port on the Princess Maude to settle back in the home place. Let me also welcome you who were educated by money sent from far flung shores. Let me welcome those of you who have a sibling living overseas and whom you have less and less in common with as the years pass by. Let me also welcome those of you who have a child living and settled abroad. You’ve faced the dawning realisation that they are more at home there than they are here and this is upsetting to you. They are slowly being lost to you as you approach an age where you thought they’d be there to meet you for a coffee in town, or that you’d drop by once a week to have time with the grandchildren and that Christmas dinner would mean a full house rather than empty spaces. As a mother said once (and this can apply to all migrants and those affected by migration) ‘the hole in my heart doesn’t go away; it just changes its size and shape’.

Let me also welcome those of you who have come to Ireland to find a new home. I welcome especially those of you forced by family circumstance to come here so that you can send money home to your family. This has to be done to provide an education and what we’d term the basic necessities of life. Let me welcome those of you who are part of the ‘globalising world’ who find yourself fliting and flying everywhere and anywhere and who even though you may enjoy the benefits of ‘Business Class’ are tired of travel and weary of hotel rooms and antiseptic offices. Let me also welcome you who may be living in direct provision…that is if you call it living…as our system only gives you enough to barley exist and serves only to curtail your humanity. Let me welcome you who have come to Ireland at the hands of traffickers. Let me welcome you children of migrants who wonder at your identity; stuck between the culture of the homeland of your parents and your growing Irishness.

If I have forgotten anyone I am sorry…and let us for a moment remember that whatever tag or identity that others have placed on us…we meet here as Brothers and Sisters of Jesus the Lord. He who was born undocumented, a refugee, displaced, and sought asylum in Egypt. We remember also that he grew up in Galilee which unlike Jerusalem was a place of diversity and acceptance. Let us turn to our common brother and seek his mercy.







Pope Francis and Migrants


To “be” more.

The scripture readings this year for World Day for Migrants and Refugees were very appropriate. The first reading and the gospel featured the concept of ‘call’. Samuel’s call was the topic for the first reading. It is a call littered with confusion…who is calling me and why? However, so precious did this engagement prove to be that from that moment on, no word was wasted, no moment unimportant in his life with God. John’s Gospel presents grown adults waking up to a new realisation that life can be better. Life can be more engaging and more exciting than it is now. So it is with a migrant life; there is a deep underlying desire to follow a call, a call which is indeed tinged with sadness on leaving and hope on arriving. It is a call that can be confused and even chaotic. This call is described by Pope Francis in the following way;

Our hearts do desire something “more”. Beyond greater knowledge or possessions, they want to “be” more.

Whether we have travelled from Lagos to Limerick, From Newport to New York or from Cork to Dublin there is an underlying desire to ‘be’ more…not just to ‘have’ more, or to ‘do’ more but to ‘be’ more. We move to a new place to be the person that we believe God not just wants us to be but the person that God needs us to be.

Pope Francis has befriended the migrant. He addresses their issues and their needs. He communicates in a language that shows empathy and understanding. When he visits countries he doesn’t side-line migrants; they feature quite highly in his timetable and speeches. Furthermore, when one lists all the shrines in Italy, all the places associated with the grandeur of the papacy, all the monasteries and convents and all the places of pilgrimage that exist, what was it that made him chose Lampedusa as his first place to visit outside of Rome. After all Lampedusa is synonymous with migrants and to be honest don’t most of us think that the Church is really about fixed geographical locations we call parishes where we can be dutiful but remain comfortably disengaged.

His own migrant experience.

I will attempt to give four reasons why Pope Francis embraces the plight of migrants. Firstly, migration was part of his experience. His parents left Portacomario near Asti, Italy in 1929. He was born to these migrant parents in Buenos Aries in 1936. As he grew older like most migrants I’m sure he was immersed in the stories of leaving the home they loved, the people they cherished and the culture they craved. He was also immersed in the story and the horror of losing everything. Following the 1932 crash the family were thrust into poverty. Like most migrants they were without the support of cousins, in-laws and neighbours. His parents stood on that threshold of darkness; where everything they lived for and hoped for was taken from them. Yet within this experience they discovered that God was with them and God led them through this darkness to a place of new possibilities. The first reason then why Pope Francis embraces the migrant is that he hasn’t forgotten his own migrant roots. There is a particularly important lesson here for Ireland. We too often don’t embrace the story of our own emigration when we address the issues of immigration. We can think that emigration and immigration are two different sciences; that one is a right and the other is a burden.

Prophetic passion.

The second reason why Pope Francis pays attention to the migrant is that the movement of people’s is prophetic. Prophetic in that it is the passion of God calling us to attend to the wrongs and evils of the world that we have a hand in creating. If you journey backwards with the migrant you find situations where gangs and guns have more influence than politics or police. These are situations where parents are desperate to protect their child from certain death at the hands of violent people; so they put their children on trains and boats and in the hands of traffickers so that their children, in the words of John’s Gospel, may have life. This journey into the life of migrants may also take you to places of modern-day slavery where people are working in squalor. They are paid a wage, but the owner of the factory provides housing which absorbs most of their salary. The journey may also bring us to see countries (even Ireland) that tolerate illegality and through complex systems of sub-contracting people pay tax, receive pathetic wages and yet receive few or even none of the benefits and supports that most of us consider are the foundation of a civilised society.

Another journey might take us to the Philippines, the location of the most recent Papal Visit. This is an example of a country that exports people so they may share in the wealth of the first world. The global market place is contineously separating families as Government policy promotes the exportation people to bring home remittances to support their children that they will meet as strangers in years to come. Between 2010 and 2013 an average of 5,000 left the Philippines every day. I read what one person said about this experience she said; ‘yes we make it to the first world but we end up in its back yard’. As a man who walked that thin line between shanty towns and palaces in South America Pope Francis shows us the shortcomings of the global market place not in theories or books but in the lives of his brothers and sisters. And in these lives we hear the passionate voice of God crying for his children. Lest we forget; we are a people of the incarnation; we believe that God is crying out to us through humanity just and he cried out to us through his Son Jesus. Though these insecurities’ are associated with migrants; more and more they are becoming a part of everyone’s life.

Finding God.

Thirdly, as a man of God Pope Francis continuously seeks to find the face of God. This, I am sure, is what we too desire. Scripture tells that God is more often found in what is strange rather than what is predictable or even in the stranger rather than in the friend. He lives this in many ways. Pope Francis finds his God in the humble trappings of a small apartment where he chooses to live rather than the lofty corridors of the papal residence. So let us not be surprised that he surprises us on the journey towards God. One other South American, Archbishop Oscar Romero, a great human being who has been brought out of an ecclesiastical wilderness uttered these words:

There is a criterion for knowing whether God is close to us or far away: all those who worry about the hungry, the naked, the poor, the disappeared, the tortured, the imprisoned – about any suffering human being – are close to God.

These are challenging words. Today the world wants to hear Pope Francis but do they want to see and embrace the path that he follows; do people want to shape their lives around his humble message or do they just want a ‘selfie’ with him so they can get thousands of likes? In this age where God appears to be hiding or is being hidden we are shown how to find God with the help of Pope Francis’ attention to the needs of the disposed many of whom are migrants.

Brothers and Sisters

Fourthly and lastly, Pope Francis has introduced us to the only language that we as a Church are missioned to use as we care for migrants and the Church at large. Language is powerful because it creates narratives. Narratives are stories that can give life or destroy life. The language of the world has boxed people, pilloried people, dehumanised people, offended and limited people. When we use language, labels and narratives to make the person beside us out to the ‘other’ then we are on a slippery slope as a society and a world. Whether we are a Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Humanist; whether we are police, media, nurse, doctor or civil servant once we label to make ourselves feel superior to others we dehumanise them. Pope Francis is showing us that the way forward for the Church in this world is the language of brother and sister. The mission of the Church is to revert to this language and even though it may be pilloried and castigated for raising the marginalised to the category of ‘equal in the eyes of God’ one has to admit that never before was it more difficult to hold onto this language and yet never before was it so necessary. Even some of our agencies who act on behalf of the Church refer to people as clients and case-loads which is not necessarily the language of the Gospel and is definitely not the direction that Pope Francis appears to be pointing.


Pope Francis’ attention to migrants is an action of a pastoral leader which is summarised in a line from an African theologian; ‘unlike experts, Christian leaders are both inspired by a vision of God’s future and grounded in the thick stubbornness of the now’. Migrants are often trapped in the thick stubbornness of the present order. They need someone to speak for them and they also need someone to challenge the conditions that have facilitated their entrapment. In summary his attention to the plight of migrants not only highlights the shortcomings of today’s economic order it also never compromises on God’s call to each and every Christian to find God in the needs of our fellow human beings. The path he asks us to follow is a way of life that the strangers among us have revealed to us. We should welcome the challenge because whether we like it or not the way that Western Society is affecting us is tragic. It is constructing a narrative that is destroying our Christian imagination; in the eyes of God we are become dull, boring and disinterested. I bet that’s not what God wants, and I bet even more that it’s not what we want.

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