Sunday, January 16, 2011

"The Messiah Was a Refugee" -- B16 Celebrates Migration Sunday

Fresh off the Stateside church's annual Epiphany-driven observance of Migration Week, this Sunday saw the global church's 97th World Day for Migrants and Refugees.

Dedicated this year to the B16-chosen theme of "One Human Family," the pontiff gave the issue-day precedence over his usual theme of today's Gospel at his noontime Angelus:
On this Sunday is observed the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which every year invites us to reflect on the experience of many men and women, and many families, who leave their own country in search of better conditions of life. Sometimes this migration is voluntary, sometimes, unfortunately, it is forced by wars or persecutions, and it often happens -- as we know -- in dramatic conditions. Because of this the United Nations High Commission for Refugees was instituted 60 years ago. On the feast of the Holy Family, immediately after Christmas, we noted that even Jesus' parents had to flee their own land and take refuge in Egypt to save the life of their child: The Messiah, the Son of God was a refugee. The Church itself has always known migration. Sometimes, unfortunately, Christians feel forced to leave, with suffering, their land, thus impoverishing the country in which their ancestors lived. On the other hand, the voluntary movement of Christians, for various reasons, from one city to another, from one country to another, from one continent to another, are occasions to enhance the missionary dynamism of the Word of God and make the witness to faith circulate more in the mystical Body of Christ, crossing peoples and cultures, and reaching new frontiers, new environments.

"One single human family:" this is the theme of the message that I composed for today's observance. It is a theme that indicates the end, the goal of the great journey of humanity across the centuries: forming one family, naturally with all the differences that enrich it, but without walls, recognizing all as brothers. Thus says the Second Vatican Council: "All peoples constitute one single community. They have one origin since God made the whole human race inhabit the whole face of the earth" ("Nostra aetate," 1). The Church, the Council continues, "is in Christ as a sacrament, that is, sign and instrument of intimate union with God and the unity of the whole human race" ("Lumen gentium," 1).
As the pontiff spoke, his concerns were echoed in a wire report filed within the same hour, noting the increasing tide of Iraqi Christians "fleeing in panic" to neighboring Turkey amid an increasingly violent reality for the already-decimated community over recent months.

Migration Sunday is but one of several topic-oriented moments of the calendar that'll come to the fore over these next days. For the 104th time, the global Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins Tuesday, running through the 25th's feast of the Conversion of St Paul. Here in the States, the ecclesial focus turns in earnest toward next week's 38th anniversary of the legalization of abortion -- a day of prayer and penance for the national church -- the observance to be capped with the annual Vigil and March for Life in Washington, beginning a week from tomorrow. And next Monday's feast of the patron of journalists, St Francis de Sales, will again see the release of this year's papal message for the the 45th World Communications Day, 2011's focusing on "Truth, proclamation and authenticity of life in the digital age."

While the Pope's WCD reflection is traditionally issued on 24 January as a nod to the patron of the press, the ecclesial media-fest doesn't actually take place until the Seventh Sunday of Easter, which most of the Catholic world now celebrates as the feast of the Ascension -- that is, the church's "Go into all the world" Day.

At his midday appearance, Benedict XVI likewise made his first public comments about the beatification of Pope John Paul II, which he approved on Friday and will "have the joy" of making official on 1 May, becoming the first pontiff in a millennium to raise his immediate predecessor to the honors of the altar.

"The many who knew him, the many who respected and loved him, can only celebrate with the church for this event," Benedict said.

"Let us rejoice!"

* * *
Back to where we began, though, even if he didn't issue a public statement for these shores' week dedicated to welcoming the stranger, in his New Year's message to his presbyterate, the archbishop of New York -- now, of course, likewise the elected chief of the nation's bishops -- did have a thing or two to say on the topic of migration here at home:
My New Year got off to a bad start when I opened up our hometown paper to see the headline that some of our states, and some in the Congress, intend to push for restrictive, harsh immigration laws. Those who blast us bishops for only being concerned about pro-life and defense of marriage issues will be shown to be what we’ve told them they are for a long time -- wrong!

Not that we can ever flag in our earnest promotion of “equal protection under the law” for our most vulnerable citizens -- the baby in the womb -- or in reminding government that it has no right to redefine marriage . . . but the Catholic Church in the United States has been and will continue to be on the side of the immigrant. Yes, government indeed has the duty to protect -- especially given the genuine threat of terrorism -- our borders and enforce sane, fair, and just immigration laws. But to get mean and punitive is not the answer.

This New York community, with the Statue of Liberty at our door, has always been a welcoming home for the immigrant, and as such is an icon of America at her best. And this archdiocese has been, is, and always will be a sanctuary for the alien, (most of whom, if you have not noticed, are Catholic), and, as such, has been a reflection of the Church at her best.
PHOTOS: Reuters(2)