ROME — Pope Francis emphasized the involuntary nature of much migration Sunday, insisting that, like Jesus, migrants and refugees are often “forced to flee.”
“Today the Church celebrates the World Day of Migrants and Refugees,” the pope told the pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter’s Square for his weekly Angelus address. “I greet the refugees and migrants present in the Square around the monument entitled ‘Angels, unawares,’ which I blessed last year.”
The pontiff said this year he has dedicated his Message for the commemoration “to the internally displaced, who are forced to flee, as also happened to Jesus and his family. ‘Like Jesus, forced to flee,’ likewise the displaced, migrants.”
“Our remembrance and our prayer to them, in a particular way, and to those who assist them,” he added.
Pope Francis has often compared migrants to Jesus Christ, suggesting that the cold welcome Christ received on coming into the world is similar to the reception many migrants experience.
“Jesus knows well the pain of not being welcomed,” the pope said in a 2018 tweet for International Migrants’ Day. “May our hearts not be closed as were the houses in Bethlehem.”
During the flight into Egypt, “the child Jesus experienced with his parents the tragic fate of the displaced and refugees,” Francis said earlier this year, “which is marked by fear, uncertainty and unease.”
“Unfortunately, in our own times, millions of families can identify with this sad reality,” Francis said. “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.”
“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.
Pope Francis has made immigration a central plank of his papal platform, encouraging nations to be more inviting to migrants, whether legal or illegal, while insisting that a failure to welcome migrants is rooted in selfishness and fueled by “populist rhetoric.”