Pope Francis is declaring “the right not to emigrate” in this year’s Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
When speaking of Europe’s migrant crisis, the Pope has often pointed to the need to address the conditions in migrants’ countries of origin, suggesting that the best long-term cure for the crisis is to stem the flow of those leaving their countries.
Now Francis has taken the theme a step further, proposing that a person’s right to live with dignity is revealed “first and foremost” by “exercising the right not to emigrate” and by contributing “to the development of one’s country of origin.”
This can only come about, the Pope contends, by assisting “the countries which migrants and refugees leave.”
Earlier this year, the Pope suggested that Catholic Church structures could help people stay in their home countries, noting the damage done to nations when their best and brightest leave for greener pastures.
For example, the Pope urged the bishops of Bosnia and Herzegovina to reach out to the faithful, and especially the young, preparing them to “remain in their territories as protagonists responsible for the reconstruction and growth of your country.”
Thursday’s Message, titled “Migrants and Refugees Challenge Us: The Response of the Gospel of Mercy,” is postdated January 17, 2016, the day when the Catholic Church commemorates Migrants.
In the text, Francis said it is necessary “to eliminate those imbalances which lead people, individually or collectively, to abandon their own natural and cultural environment” and “to avert, if possible at the earliest stages, the flight of refugees and departures as a result of poverty, violence and persecution.”
The Pope reiterated the biblical injunction to “welcome the stranger” but also insisted that migrants must obey the laws of their host country and assume their obligations.
It is important to view migrants above all “as people whose dignity is to be protected and who are capable of contributing to progress and the general welfare,” he said, while also laying down the conditions necessary for this positive impact to take place.
Migrants make a genuine contribution to their destination countries, he said, “when they responsibly assume their obligations towards those who receive them, gratefully respecting the material and spiritual heritage of the host country, obeying its laws and helping with its needs.”
Widespread migration causes great suffering, both for those migrating and for those nations who end up receiving them, Francis said.
Refugees and people fleeing from their homes are often “exploited by human traffickers during their journey,” he said, and even if they “survive the abuses and hardships of the journey,” more hardships await them.
“Migrants,” he said, “are our brothers and sisters in search of a better life, far away from poverty, hunger, exploitation and the unjust distribution of the planet’s resources which are meant to be equitably shared by all.”
Francis said there is an urgent need for the migrant crisis to be “managed and regulated” in order to avoid further adversities, while at the same time insisting that welcoming others “means welcoming God in person.”
But now the pontiff wants everyone to know they have the right to stay home.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome