ROME — Pope Francis has compared displaced persons to Jesus Christ in his annual message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.
Bearing the title, “Like Jesus Christ, Forced to Flee: Welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating internally displaced persons,” the pope’s message for 2020 declared that the tragedy of internally displaced people is “one of the challenges of our contemporary world, especially because of “situations of conflict and humanitarian emergencies, aggravated by climate change.”
“I have decided to devote this Message to the drama of internally displaced persons, an often unseen tragedy that the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated,” the pontiff noted, adding that the health crisis “has relegated to the bottom of national political agendas those urgent international efforts essential to saving lives.”
This is a mistake, the pope insisted, since the crisis we are facing “should not make us forget the many other crises that bring suffering to so many people.”
According to the United Nations, internally displaced people (IDPs) are internal migrants who “have not crossed a border to find safety.”
“Unlike refugees, they are on the run at home,” it states. “IDPs stay within their own country and remain under the protection of its government, even if that government is the reason for their displacement.”
During the flight into Egypt, “the child Jesus experienced with his parents the tragic fate of the displaced and refugees,” Francis said in his message, citing a 1952 text by Pope Pius XII, “which is marked by fear, uncertainty and unease.”
“Unfortunately, in our own times, millions of families can identify with this sad reality. Almost every day the television and papers carry news of refugees fleeing from hunger, war and other grave dangers, in search of security and a dignified life for themselves and for their families,” Francis said.
“In each of these people, forced to flee to safety, Jesus is present as he was at the time of Herod,” he continued. “In the faces of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, strangers and prisoners, we are called to see the face of Christ who pleads with us to help.”
“If we can recognize him in those faces, we will be the ones to thank him for having been able to meet, love and serve him in them,” he said.
The pope went on to say that it is vital to treat migrants as people rather than as numbers or statistics.
“When we talk about migrants and displaced persons, all too often we stop at statistics. But it is not about statistics, it is about real people!” he said. “If we encounter them, we will get to know more about them. And knowing their stories, we will be able to understand them.”
The pope also underscored the need to listen to others in order to understand them and to be reconciled with them.
“In 2020, silence has reigned for weeks in our streets. A dramatic and troubling silence, but one that has given us the opportunity to listen to the plea of the vulnerable, the displaced and our seriously ill planet,” he said.
“The pandemic has reminded us of how essential co-responsibility is, and that only with the contribution of everyone – even of those groups so often underestimated – can we face this crisis,” he said.
“This is not a time for self-centredness, because the challenge we are facing is shared by all, without distinguishing between persons,” he said.