World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Sunday 17th January

refugees in train station Budapest


The theme chosen by Pope Francis for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2016 is “Migrants and Refugees Challenge Us. The Response of the Gospel of Mercy.”

The geopolitics of mercy and realism

Pope Francis has called on European leaders not to turn their back on refugees and migrants despite the cultural and security challenges associated with the arrival of 1 million people this past year. In his speech, which one Vatican observer characterised as the “geopolitics of mercy and realism,” Francis highlighted “the inevitable problems” such an influx creates, as countries struggle to accommodate newcomers to new cultural and social norms.

“Equally significant are fears about security, further exacerbated by the growing threat of international terrorism,” he said, nodding at powerful anti-immigrant sentiments that have inflamed debates in Europe and North America.

Different cultures and religions can speak to one another

A recent statement of encouragement by the Jesuit Major Superiors of Europe was directed to members of the Society of Jesus and those who work with them all around Europe, in the Jesuit Refugee Service. The long tradition of accompanying, serving and advocating for refugees was begun by Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ in 1980 over 35 years ago, and is warmly acknowledged.

“We particularly want to mention the work done in these past decades with refugee and migrant communities by Jesuits and those working with them. They have worked tirelessly to reach out, to accompany, to befriend, to help people to integrate and build new lives for themselves.

“They have worked quietly, with few resources and out of the limelight. Yet, their work is a testimony that integration is possible, that our fears are often groundless, that different cultures and religions can indeed speak to one another, that we can reach out to others across our differences, that we can dare to call each other ‘friend’. Such a testimony is more needed today than ever.”

Such missionaries sometimes live in danger of their personal safety, choosing to remain in conflict zones. Fr Frans Van der Lugt SJ was a Dutch Jesuit killed in Homs, Syria almost two years ago. He refused to leave his beloved Syrian people: “A shepherd does not leave his sheep”. His story is told here by his good friend and colleague Fr Louis Taoutel SJ. 


The right not to emigrate

Pope Francis says in his message for World Day: “The Church stands at the side of all who work to defend each person’s right to live with dignity, first and foremost by exercising the right not to emigrate and to contribute to the development of one’s country of origin.

“This process should include, from the outset, the need to assist the countries which migrants and refugees leave. This will demonstrate that solidarity, cooperation, international interdependence and the equitable distribution of the earth’s goods are essential for more decisive efforts, especially in areas where migration movements begin, to eliminate those imbalances which lead people, individually or collectively, to abandon their own natural and cultural environment.”

Churches with different faces

Fr Adolfo Nicolás SJ, Jesuit Superior General, has appealed in a strong statement to the Jesuit Major Superiors to ensure all institutions and networks are mobilised to embrace the presence of Christian families forced to emigrate under the threatening pressure of Islamic groups in the Near East.

Fr Adolfo reminds us: “the biblical tradition took place in a land that is very real and the Christian message is carried by churches with different faces that together show to all our common dignity as children of God.”

Article compiled by Irish Jesuit Missions, 14th January 2016.

Further reading on Syria, the refugee crisis and Fr Frans Van der Lugt SJ