by Matthew Charlesworth SJ

This week, on 20 June, we observed World Refugee Day. It is a sad fact that all around the world, women, men, and children are forced by violence, persecution, natural disasters, famine, political upheaval and economic difficulties, to leave their homelands.

The opposition by some countries to the migration of forcibly displaced people will not keep those who undergo unbearable suffering from leaving their homes. While it is true that the arrival of migrants in more developed countries can present real and significant challenges, it can also be an opportunity for openness and change. Pope Francis poses this question to us: “How can we experience these changes not as obstacles to genuine development, but rather as opportunities for genuine human, social and spiritual growth?” (Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 17 Jan 2016)

Societies that find the courage and the vision to go beyond the fear of foreigners and migrants soon discover the riches that migrants bring with them. If we insist on only seeing migrants as a burden, we deprive ourselves of the opportunities for solidarity that are always opportunities for mutual learning, enrichment and growth. Pope Francis has urged the world to adopt a shared response to the global refugee/migration situation that may be articulated in four words: welcome, protect, promote and integrate.

But what about countries that fuel fear and lack the courage to do these things?

In this past week in which we marked World Refugee Day, we have seen what fear leads to. We have seen in one of the most powerful countries in the world, who could have set a better example, heart-rending images of children forcibly separated from their parents at the southern border of the United States. Some government officials were bold enough to use the Bible as justification, saying citizens must obey and respect governments because they are ordained by God.

The Bible demands that we protect the widow, the orphan and the stranger and that an unjust law is no law at all. In Exodus 23:9 we read: “You shall not oppress the resident alien for you were aliens yourselves once, in the land of Egypt.” And in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus explains that at the Last Judgment, he will say to people, “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

In South Africa we have to be fearless and courageous about confronting the real issues of injustice, inequality, xenophobia and racism. At the heart of all these is the simple question – how do we care for each other? Do we consider the other person worthy of care?

Fr Bryan Massingale, a visiting lecturer from New York for this year’s Winter Living Theology that begins this week, said: “For people of faith, racism is more than a political issue or social injustice. Most fundamentally, racism is a soul-sickness. It is a profound warping of the human spirit that enables humans to create communities of callous indifference to their darker sisters and brothers. Stripped to its core, racism is that disturbing interior disease that enables people to not care for those who don’t look like them.”

Come and listen to Fr Bryan Massingale at this year’s Winter Living Theology – find out more HERE.