Daily on the news we see and hear the stories of refugees throughout the world as well as countless homeless people living on the streets in our urban areas here in the United States. How are we to respond?
In Chapter 25 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us the way. Identifying with those seeking refuge, he says, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” In other words, reaching out in compassion and mercy to those who look to us for safety, freedom and understanding is in fact responding to Jesus present in them. Love, Jesus says, is the measure by which we will be judged.
Those forced to leave their homes today because of war, religious or social persecution, or for other legitimate reasons are compelled to search for a more secure and peaceful life for their families and loved ones. In this issue we present examples of such people and how Maryknoll missioners are ministering to them.
Sister Rosemarie Milazzo, for instance, comforts Iraqi and Syrian refugees who have fled violence and now await an uncertain future in camps in Iraqi Kurdistan. Lay Missioner Greg Fischer gives practical assistance to refugees trying to settle in São Paulo, Brazil, and maintains a photoblog where they can share their hopes and dreams. Father Michael Bassano encourages internally displaced persons through his pastoral ministry in a U.N. camp in South Sudan.
In arriving as a missionary for the first time in Tanzania in 1976, I recall that I was indeed a stranger in a strange land, and I remember that gradually I was warmly welcomed and received into the homes and families of the poor. It was only in reflecting on this experience many years later that I recognized my own poverty and dependence on others. I needed my hosts to teach me their language, culture, customs and traditions as I began living out my missionary vocation there.
We are truly transformed and blessed by those who receive us. How will we in turn receive and welcome not only the refugees who seek asylum here in the United States but also the homeless men, women and children who are living on the streets in our midst and within whom Jesus is present? In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us pray that our hearts may be open.