In our tumultuous political climate and too often cynical world, even pleas to help the most vulnerable among us are sometimes interpreted as personal attacks used to score points against one’s political opponent.
Sadly, that’s how many on the left and the right viewed Pope Francis’ Christmas Day address at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City when he prayed for migrant families and refugees around the world and condemned the “walls of indifference” and “inhumane detention camps” they often encounter.
Instead of seeing his prayer for what it was — a call to all human beings, on the left and the right, Christian and non-Christian, to understand the forces that cause people to flee their homes and to see migrants and refugees for what they are, fellow human beings suffering — many pundits saw it as a criticism of President Donald Trump and the wall he’s promised to build on our southern border.
This is not only misguided and cynical, it misinterprets the purpose of the pope’s prayer and his efforts to draw attention to what he has called the “globalization of indifference”, a growing trend toward “extreme individualism” and a “utilitarian mentality” in economically advanced societies.
This, as he said Sept. 29, the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, is “not just about migrants.” It’s about a world where “migrants, refugees, displaced persons and victims of trafficking have become emblems of exclusion. In addition to the hardships that their condition entails, they are often looked down upon and considered the source of all society’s ills.” That, he continued, is “an alarm bell” warning of “moral decline” in our consumer societies that too often see goods and individuals as disposable.
We may not agree with everything this pope says or does, but we certainly agree that how we treat the displaced and the “poorest of the poor” says a great deal about who we are as a nation. While he’s sometimes derided (or praised, depending on one’s politics) as a left-leaning thinker, he’s often called business “a noble vocation” and given thanks for the jobs and wealth created by capitalism the world over. But he’s also consistently said that “an economic system detached from ethical concerns does not bring about a more just social order, but leads instead to a ‘throwaway’ culture of consumption and waste.”
While national borders and immigration laws should of course be respected, heaven help us all if we as a nation begin to see families seeking refuge and a better life in the U.S. as somehow disposable.
When historians look back on the decade just ended, they may very well refer to it as the “decade of refugees.” According to the United Nations, an unprecedented 70.8 million people have been “forcibly displaced” worldwide, and “37,000 people are forced to flee their homes every day due to conflict or persecution.”
Tragically, the exodus continues. Families continue to flee war, social unrest, poverty and persecution in Syria and Afghanistan, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia, Myanmar and Congo. Closer to home, they’re fleeing violence, poverty, tyranny and corruption in Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Venezuela, and other Central and South American countries.
It is by no means a political statement — or at least it shouldn’t be — to say that these vulnerable mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, must be treated with respect, kindness and understanding, not indifference.
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