Refugees are just like us, but they’ve lost everything: Pope Francis

A Bru tribal woman prepares food in a refugee camp in Kanchanpur, India, on 18 June, the eve of World Refugee Day. Photo: EPA
A Bru tribal woman prepares food in a refugee camp in Kanchanpur, India, on 18 June, the eve of World Refugee Day. Photo: EPA

Help and accompany refugees while working to build peace in the world, Pope Francis urged on the eve of World Refugee Day.

“Refugees are people like everyone, but war took away their home, work, relatives and friends,” he said in the run-up to the United Nations-sponsored day on 20 June.

Seeing the faces and hearing the stories of refugees should lead Christians “to renew our obligation to build peace through justice”, he said after praying the Angelus on 19 June.

“This is why we want to stand with them – to encounter them, welcome them, listen to them – in order to become together with them artisans of peace, according to God’s will,” the pope said, referring to the day’s theme, “We Stand #WithRefugees”.

The pope’s appeal followed a joint effort by the Vatican police, the Greek government and Rome’s Sant’Egidio Community to bring a group of Syrian refugees to Italy.

The Vatican police accompanied nine refugees – six adults and three children – from Athens to Rome on 16 June. The community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic lay organisation, was arranging their housing.

The Syrians, including two Christians, had been living in a refugee camp on Lesbos, the island Pope Francis visited in April to highlight the dramatic situation of the people there. He took three refugee families with him on his flight back to Rome.

The pope’s appeals and actions tell the world that it is feasible to offer real help to refugees, said Jesuit Fr Thomas Smolich, international director of Jesuit Refugee Service.

Leaders and everyday people “get a pretty good model” from the pope about the Catholic and humanitarian duty of welcoming, advocating for and assisting refugees, Fr Smolich told CNS on 20 June.

“I would encourage people, especially on World Refugee Day, to contact the part of the Church that works with refugees,” or find out who else is helping in their community.

“There are so many things to do,” he said, such as visiting refugees, helping with free meals, doing advocacy work, becoming part of a long-term co-ordinated effort or just helping out when time allows.

“People are doing this” in spite of what some political leaders say, he said, “so it is a question of bringing it to light” and inspiring more people to help rather than be paralysed by fear.

While global estimates say more than 60 million people are fleeing violence, conflict or persecution, the best way to digest such a statistic is “to meet people one-on-one or hear them speak” so they don’t remain an abstract number, the priest said.

JRS was urging people to meet with refugees or watch interviews on the JRS YouTube channel in order “to enable refugees to speak out about their hopes, their future” and help others learn about their lives, Fr Smolich said.

Similarly, the International Catholic Migration Commission was commemorating World Refugee Day by sharing stories from resettled refugees around the world “as a witness to their strength and determination despite the hardship they have endured”. It hoped the stories would encourage those still on the move and call attention to the benefits refugees bring to host countries.

People were also invited during the Year of Mercy to continue sending messages of hope on social media using the #HandsOfMercy hashtag and share personal stories with #StoryOfMercy or #WithRefugees.

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