As we begin this new year, there are two important messages from our Holy Father, Pope Francis. The first, in his Message for the World Day of Peace, celebrated Jan. 1, he took the theme “No Longer Slaves, But Brothers and Sisters” directly from the Scriptures and the words of St. Paul as he commends the slave Onesimus as he returns to Philemon his owner. St. Paul urges Philemon to treat Onesimus as a brother and as a fellow Christian, so that fraternity will be the fundamental bond of family life and the basis of life in society.
From that theme, our Holy Father develops his statement regarding peace and solidarity and outlines the many faces of slavery of yesterday and today whose causes include conflict, violence, criminal activity and terrorism. The solution is the globalizing of fraternity, not slavery or indifference.
In particular, Pope Francis speaks about the living conditions of many migrants whose lives in many ways is tantamount to slave labor, especially in those countries where there are types of labor contracts and the people are deprived of every human freedom.
Unfortunately, in our own country, we have similar situations. As our Holy Father says, “I think of those among them, who for different social, political and economic reasons, are forced to live clandestinely.”
This statement clearly applies to our own country where for political reasons there are over 12 million undocumented persons living in the shadows. They are not subject to slave labor, however, they labor without the full rights that workers should have in our society. President Obama’s recent Executive Order must withstand the possible undoing of Congressional action. Our Holy Father gives us direction from a universal perspective on the social problem of our society where undocumented migrants find little justice.
In the message of Pope Francis on the occasion of the 101st World Day of Migrants and Refugees, he chose the theme, “Church Without Frontiers, Mother to All.” He again states, “The Church without frontiers, Mother to all, spreads throughout the world a culture of acceptance and solidarity, in which no one is seen as useless, out of place or disposable. When living out this motherhood effectively, the Christian community nourishes, guides and indicates the way, accompanying all with patience, and drawing close to them through prayer and works of mercy.”
Our Holy Father continually sees the Church as a mother to all. I am particularly drawn to this image as my own episcopal motto is “Behold Your Mother,” which refers not only to the Blessed Mother, but also to the Church as one that must reach out to all people with maternal affection. Mothers know how to care for their children, and so must the Church be ready always to care for the children of God without distinction if they be Church members or not.
In the message for the 101st World Day for Migrants and Refugees, the Holy Father outlines some of the important steps which need to be taken in order to ameliorate the conditions of migrants when he says, “Migration movements, however, are on such a scale that only a systematic and active cooperation between States and international organizations can be capable of regulating and managing such movements effectively. For migration affects everyone, not only because of the extent of the phenomenon, but also because of ‘the social, economic, political, cultural and religious problems it raises, and the dramatic challenges it poses to nations and the international community’ (Caritas in Veritate, 62).”
Quoting the words of Benedict XVI, Pope Francis underlines the necessity for structures that regulate international migration. The fact is, because these structures are lacking, we are experiencing the undocumented migration that seems to be such an unmanageable social problem in our own country. It is too simple to say that migrants have broken the law and for this reason they should be punished. This is said without an understanding of the root causes of migration which draw many people into our labor market without receiving the full benefits of their labor. Sometimes it is necessary to take a broad look at our own social problems from a view outside of our own country. Our Holy Father provides that strategic view and allows us to see in perspective what is not so obvious to ourselves.
Pope Francis concludes his statement by saying, “It is necessary to respond to the globalization of migration with the globalization of charity and cooperation in such a way as to make the conditions of migrants more humane. At the same time, greater efforts are needed to guarantee the easing of conditions, often brought about by war or famine, which compel whole peoples to leave their native countries.”
Migration, almost by definition, is an exercise in putting out into the deep. Migrants do not know what their future is as they leave their home countries. It is the task of the Church as mother to all to better the conditions of its children, especially those who in any way are treated as slaves and not as brothers and sisters.