Pope Francis: An encounter with a migrant is an encounter with Christ

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“See in the migrants of our time, as in those of every age, a living image of God’s people on their way to the eternal homeland,” writes Pope Francis in his 2024 Message for the 110th World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

The World Day, celebrated annually on 29 September, is a call to believers to show support and closeness to the millions of men, women and children who are forced to leave their homes. The current global estimate is that there were around 281 million international migrants in the world in 2020, which equates to 3.6 per cent of the global population, and that number continues to rise.

Pointing out that God not only walks with His people, but also within them, he invites us all to walk in a “synodal” way – in the Church and in the world – in order to move forward on our own pilgrimage toward the heavenly homeland.

God walks with his people

The message’s title, “God walks with His people,” immediately points to the synodal dimension the Pope constantly invites the Church and the people of God to live every day and in every moment.

Recalling the introduction to the synthesis report released at the conclusion of the First Session of the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on Synodality last October, the Pope writes, “Synodality is mainly presented as a joint journey of the People of God” that allows the Church “to rediscover its itinerant nature, as the People of God journeying through history on pilgrimage, ‘migrating’, we could say, toward the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Thus, as he so often does, the Pope calls us to recognize the Lord present in the millions of people who are forced to migrate due to conflict, persecution, poverty, and the climate crisis, “as a living image of God’s people on their way to the eternal homeland.”

Journeys of hope

“Their journeys of hope remind us that ‘our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ’,” he says.

Recalling images of the biblical exodus, he notes it shares many similarities with the plight of migrants: “Like the people of Israel in the time of Moses, migrants often flee from oppression, abuse, insecurity, discrimination, and lack of opportunities for development. Similar to the Jews in the desert, migrants encounter many obstacles in their path: they are tried by thirst and hunger; they are exhausted by toil and disease; they are tempted by despair.”

And God, he reminds us, “not only walks with His people, but also within them, (…) particularly with the least, the poor and the marginalized. In this, we see an extension of the mystery of the Incarnation.”

From tent to tent

Pope Francis points out that “the fundamental reality of the Exodus, of every exodus, is that God precedes and accompanies His people and all His children in every time and place.”

Thus, he adds, “God’s presence in the midst of the people is a certainty of salvation history: “The Lord your God goes with you; He will not fail you or forsake you”.

Referring, yet again, to biblical texts, the Holy Father recalls that in the Law that God gave Moses, He provided instructions to build a “tent” as a place of worship that could be moved each time they changed location.

This he says, makes God’s closeness tangible at all times. “The tent is a form of presence especially dear to the Lord,” he said, noting that “during David’s reign, God chose to dwell in a tent, not a temple, so that He could walk with His people, ‘from tent to tent and from dwelling to dwelling’.

Travelling companion

Many migrants, the Pope continues, “experience God as their travelling companion, guide and anchor of salvation.”

He notes they “entrust themselves to Him before setting out and seek Him in times of need. In Him, they find consolation in moments of discouragement.”

An encounter with Christ

Pope Francis reiterates his call to us to open our hearts and doors to our brothers and sisters on the move, reminding us that “the encounter with the migrant, as with every brother and sister in need, is also an encounter with Christ.”

Christ Himself has said so many times, he noted, and the Scriptures are full of references to this reality. Recalling the 2019 Message for the World Day of the Poor, the Pope says: “Every encounter along the way represents an opportunity to meet the Lord; it is an occasion charged with salvation, because Jesus is present in the sister or brother in need of our help. In this sense, the poor save us, because they enable us to encounter the face of the Lord.”

Pope Francis concludes his Message with a prayer:

God, Almighty Father,
we are Your pilgrim Church
journeying towards the Kingdom of heaven.
but as if we were foreigners.
Every foreign place is our home,
yet every native land is foreign to us.
Though we live on earth,
our true citizenship is in heaven.
Do not let us become possessive
of the portion of the world
You have given us as a temporary home,
together with our migrant brothers and sisters,
toward the eternal dwelling you have prepared for us.
Open our eyes and our hearts
so that every encounter with those in need
becomes an encounter with Jesus, Your Son and our Lord.

Source: Vaticannews.va