By Thomas Williams
In his general audience Wednesday, Pope Francis launched an appeal to the nations of the world to open their hearts and their doors to migrants who are standing “at the border,” in an apparent reference to the many migrants camped at key border positions trying to enter Europe.
During the last year, more than 1.1 million migrants entered the European Union and the unabated flow has prompted countries along the main migration corridor through the Balkans to seal their borders, leaving tens of thousands encamped in Greece.
The Pope compared today’s migrants to the people of Israel who were deported into Babylon in the 7th century BC, as recounted in the Biblical book of the prophet Jeremiah.
“How many of our brothers and sisters are living in this time a real and dramatic situation of exile,” Francis said, “far from their homeland, still in their eyes the reflection of their homes reduced to rubble, their hearts full of fear and often, unfortunately, sorrow at the loss of loved ones!”
“And when they try to go somewhere else, they find the door closed to them,” Francis continued, “There they are, at the border, because so many doors and so many hearts are closed. Today’s migrants suffer from the cold, without food and with no way to enter. They do not feel welcome.”
“How it pleases me to hear of nations and rulers who open their hearts and open their doors!” he said.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis called Europe’s migrant crisis a veritable “Arab invasion,” and framed the inundation of primarily Muslim migrants in the context of invasions that Europe has suffered in the past, immediately adding: “How many invasions has Europe suffered in its history!”
In his audience Wednesday, the Pope related the situations of contemporary migrants to the Israelites’ deportation to “a foreign land,” which tried their faith in God’s goodness.
Francis said that the Babylonian exile was a “devastating experience for Israel.” Faith had faltered because in a strange land, without a temple and without worship, “it was difficult to continue to believe in the goodness of the Lord.”
“In these cases, one may ask, where is God? How is it that so much suffering can befall men, women and innocent children?” he asked.
The prophet Jeremiah was called upon to assure these people that “God is not absent even today in these dramatic situations,” Francis said. “God is near, and makes great works of salvation for those who trust in him.”
The Pope said that that Israel’s experience of exile, and above all returning home, presaged the mission of the Lord Jesus as redeemer.
“The real and radical return from exile and the comforting light after the darkness of the crisis of faith, is realized at Easter,” Francis said, “in the experience full and definitive love of God, the merciful love that gives joy, peace and eternal life.”