In his annual message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which in 2015 will be observed on January 18, Pope Francis called on all to honor the “biblical commandment of welcoming with respect and solidarity the stranger in need.”
Today the Vatican released the Pope’s message, “Church without Frontiers, Mother to All,” in which the Francis reminded his readers that Jesus identifies himself with strangers and outcasts.
“Jesus Christ is always waiting to be recognized in migrants and refugees, in displaced persons and in exiles, and through them he calls us to share our resources, and occasionally to give up something of our acquired riches,” he wrote.
“Large numbers of people are leaving their homelands, with a suitcase full of fears and desires, to undertake a hopeful and dangerous trip in search of more humane living conditions,” says Francis. “Such migration gives rise to suspicion and hostility, even in ecclesial communities, prior to any knowledge of the migrants’ lives or their stories of persecution and destitution.”
Yet individual efforts are not enough, signaled the Pope. The scale of today’s immigration demands international coordination.
Migration movements “are on such a scale that only a systematic and active cooperation between states and international organizations can be capable of regulating and managing such movements effectively,” he wrote.
According to the United Nations, there were 232 million international migrants in 2013, representing a rise of 50 percent since 1990.
In June, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a report that put the global number of refugees at over 50 million, a level that hasn’t been seen since World War II.
US Catholic bishops have strongly supported “comprehensive immigration reform” that would provide for a road to citizenship for the estimated 12 million immigrants who are in the United States without legal documents. The Democratic-controlled Senate passed a comprehensive reform bill last summer, but the measure stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
President Obama, on the other hand, has stalled on immigration, announcing that he would not sign an executive reform before the midterm elections. This decision seemed intended not to hurt Democrats’ chances among voters, though recent polling appears to support that strategy. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showing that 27% of Americans oppose a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, which is favored by only 21%.
The immigration issue has been further complicated by more than 60,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America who have crossed the border between the U.S. and Mexico since October 2013. Immigration advocates insist that the minors are fleeing violent street gangs and drug cartels, while critics blame the Obama administration’s policies for encouraging people to illegally immigrate to the United States.
Pope Francis has made migration a signature issue of his pontificate. In July 2013, less than four months after his election as pope, he traveled to the southern Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, a major entry point for African immigrants to Europe.
The Pope also met with international refugees in Rome and, during a May visit to the Holy Land, in Jordan. He has also frequently denounced human trafficking, calling it a “crime against humanity.”