Migration has emerged as one of the most divisive political issues today, causing intense polarization in our public discourse and conflicts in communities all over the world. The tensions and anxieties surrounding migration have been fueled by the criminalization of migration, which seems to be the de facto response of many governments. This criminalization results in social exclusion and forces migrants and refugees into the shadows, depriving them of access to basic human rights and preventing them from fully participating in and contributing to their host community.
As Franciscan men and women, we are called to adopt a spirit of welcome, having recognized that our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters have “done nothing criminal” (Luke 23: 41). Pope Francis encourages us “to overcome indifference and to counter fears with a generous approach of welcoming those who knock at our doors.”
As followers of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi, Franciscans have a special mandate to embrace those who are less fortunate among us. We can live out this spiritual and historical call to be among the minores of our time in a variety of ways – “by increasing opportunities for intercultural exchange, documenting and disseminating best practices of integration, and developing programmes to prepare local communities for integration processes.”
However, a more fundamental change must also occur: the conversion of hearts. Equipped with a belief in our shared dignity and common humanity, Franciscans can change the misconceptions about migration and the negative narratives currently circulating. We can work to promote the welcome and inclusion of our migrant and refugee brothers within our faith and local communities, as well as within society at large. As people of faith, we can infuse our preaching, theological reflections, and our prayer lives with thanksgiving for the many gifts of our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters. In doing so, we not only bring their joys before God but also before God’s people.
Most high and glorious God, the poor, crucified body of Christ inspired Saint Francis and Saint Clare to a genuine, loving concern for the poor and the oppressed. We follow in their example, as we reflect on you this Lent.
Like Francis and Clare, we pray That in gazing on Your poor, crucified body, we may know the Body of Christ who still suffers with those who experience injustice and violence; That in meditating on Your words on the cross, we may hear Your cries echoed in the cries of our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters; That in contemplating Your suffering, we may empathize and show mercy to those who are displaced and excluded; And that in desiring to imitate You, who welcomed all, we may also welcome all, especially the stranger and the outcast.
Just as Francis’ embrace of the leper turned what seemed bitter “into sweetness of soul and body,” the embrace of our migrant and refugee brothers and sisters will turn the bitterness of xenophobia and fear into the sweetness of justice and peace. For in welcoming and embracing those whom we consider the stranger and the least among us, we will be welcoming and embracing You. Amen.
The above reflection is an excerpt of a reflection of the last words of Jesus on the cross. The complete reflection can be found at the Franciscans International website.