The Holy Father warns that when we allow fears and doubts to “condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even – racist” – there is a serious problem. For “in this way, fear deprives us of the desire and the ability to encounter the other, the person different from myself. It deprives me of an opportunity to encounter the Lord.”
This wonderful idea of actually encountering the Lord and all others is one of Pope Francis’ major themes. He is trying to inspire us to build not personal nor national walls, but a “culture of encounter” instead.
There are many lies that have spread about migrants and refugees – that they are murderers, rapists and criminals of all sorts. However, numerous studies point to the contrary.
The vast majority are good, decent human beings who pay taxes while enjoying virtually no benefits. They are working at jobs most citizens will not do – like the back-breaking work of picking our vegetables and fruits, washing dishes and landscaping. Furthermore, they add fresh vitality to our towns, cities and parishes. They need us and we need them! This is what Pope Francis’ “culture of encounter” is all about.
“The progress of our peoples,” said the Pope, “depends above all on our openness to being touched and moved by those who knock at our door. Their faces shatter and debunk all those false idols that can take over and enslave our lives; idols that promise an illusory and momentary happiness blind to the lives and sufferings of others.”
Instead of building Pope Francis’ welcoming “culture of encounter,” several European countries including Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, Macedonia, Austria and France have built barriers to keep people who are fleeing armed conflicts and terrible poverty out.
In the US, the Trump administration’s determination to lengthen the wall at the Mexican border and his policy of “zero-tolerance” is causing untold suffering.
Joanna Williams, director of education and advocacy for the Catholic-run Kino Border Initiative located near the border in Nogales, Mexico, told me that asylum seekers have to wait for many weeks or months before they have the opportunity to even ask for asylum.
Please prayerfully read the Holy Father’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees message (www.vaticannews.va). It will inspire you to stand with our desperate brothers and sisters who are knocking at our nations’ doors begging for Christian kindness.