September 6, 2015, Sunday — “Be opened”
“Every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe, take in one family.” —Pope Francis in his Angelus prayer at noon today in St. Peter’s Square, when he made the astonishing request to all of the Church parishes and monasteries in Europe that each take in one family of refugees fleeing from the various wars in the Middle East
“His deafness expresses the inability to hear and to understand, not just the words of man, but also the Word of God.”—Pope Francis, also at noon today, in his reflection on today’s Gospel reading about the healing by Jesus of the deaf and dumb man
Another astonishing gesture today from Pope Francis.
At his noon Angelus, he called for every parish in Europe, every monastery, every shrine, to take in one refugee family from the thousands of Syrian, Kurdish, Iraqi, Libyan and other Middle Eastern families seeking refuge in Europe, and he said the two parishes of Vatican City — St. Anne’s and St. Peter’s — would also each take in one family.
It was gesture immediately praised by some, criticized by others, but noticed and commented on by everyone.
With today’s announcement in Rome, Pope Francis was echoing what Jesus did to heal the deaf and dumb man — a story told in today’s Gospel reading.
Jesus, placing his fingers on the ears and tongue of the deaf and dumb man, said, “Be opened.” And the ears and mouth of the deaf and dumb man were opened, and he could hear, and speak.
Francis, speaking just days after the photo of a little Kurdish refugee boy found lying dead from drowning on a beach in Turkey shocked and moved the world said, essentially, “Be opened” to the Church, to Italy, to Europe, and to the world.
Here is how the Washington Post reported this incident (link):
“The first disturbing photo shows a small boy. He is wearing a red T-shirt and long shorts that stop below the knee. His shirt is hiked above his waist, exposing his midriff. He is wearing black sneakers with no socks. And he is dead, face down in the rocky surf.
“The Kurdish boy who washed up on the beach was identified by Turkish officials as 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi in news reports. He was in one of two boats, Reuters reported, carrying a total of 23 people that set off separately from the Akyarlar area of Turkey’s Bodrum peninsula, apparently headed to the Greek island of Kos, where they could have attempted to enter the European Union. Reports suggested that their ultimate destination was Canada.
“Instead, officials said, the boat capsized, and Aylan washed up a few miles to the northeast in Turkey, not far from a beach resort. The dead included five children — among them Aylan’s 5-year-old brother — and one woman. According to the Independent, the woman was the boys’ mother, Rihan, 35. Seven were rescued, and two reached the shore in life jackets. According to the Ottawa Citizen, the boy’s father, Abdullah, survived.
“The family may have been trying to reach Canada. In June, the paper said, Aylan’s family ‘desperately’ tried to get permission to emigrate to Canada — where Abdullah’s sister, Teema Kurdi, lives in Vancouver — but their refugee application was rejected by Canadian authorities.”
In the Pope’s vision, such incidents may be able to be avoided if Europe develops plans to accept and offer hospitality to all the refugees seeking to avoid violence and death in their devastated home countries…
The Devil is in the details…
There are as yet no real details fleshing out this appeal by the Pope.
It is not clear how many parishes will respond to the Pope’s call.
But if many do respond, hundreds of thousands of refugees could find shelter.
“If Pope Francis had his way, European parishes would house up to 500,000 refugees,” the Washington Post headlined today (link). “There are about 122,000 Catholic parishes in Europe, according to a study conducted by Georgetown University and published in June,” Rick Noack wrote. “If each of them housed one refugee family consisting of three to four people, about 360,000 to 500,000 refugees could be accommodated in the coming months.”
He added: “It is unclear, however, whether all parishes will accede to the Pope’s wish.” And he noted: “The announcement, nevertheless, could relieve some of the countries that have taken in a large share of the refugees who have recently arrived in Europe, such as Germany or Sweden. If all of Germany’s 12,000 parishes responded favorably to the Pope’s demand, they alone could house a total of more than 30,000 refugees, according to Reuters. However, Germany expects about 800,000 refugees to apply for asylum in the country by the end of the year.”
The difference between the two figures — 30,000 refugees hosted by 12,000 parishes, and 800,000 refugees seeking asylum — reveals that, even with an enormous amount of good will, this problem may be too large for the Church alone to solve.
And already today in Hungary, Cardinal Peter Erdo, the country’s Primate as the Archbishop of Budapest-Esztergom, suggested many of Hungary’s parishes would not be able to respond immediately to the Pope’s call. “Our parishes may not be able to receive the refugees to give them assistance insofar as this action could be seen as illegal, as trafficking in human beings.” (link)
Why could it be seen as “trafficking in human beings”? Because the entire journey of each of the refugees is fraught with danger — and unscrupulous intermediaries are willing to take money from desperate people, promising to deposit them in Germany, but leaving them adrift halfway along the journey.
Indeed, Hungary, finding itself inundated with — and unable to care for — tens of thousands of refugees who have come over the long southern border with Serbia, is in the process of building a wire fence along the entire border. Here is an image of that fence. (link)
Other Europeans have made efforts on a personal front to house refugees. On Saturday, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila said he would accommodate refugees at his home. “We should all take a look in the mirror and ask how we can help,” Sipila was quoted as saying to the Finnish national broadcaster YLE by Reuters.
In Italy, conservative Catholic journalist Antonio Socci, writing on August 30, before today’s initiative announced by Francis, has gone so far as to call the openness of Francis to migrants against the traditional social teaching of the Church. Socci says that traditional teaching emphasizes the need to support peace and prosperity in the home countries of refugees, rather than the need to take in without question every refugee who seeks asylum.
Socci writes: “Bergoglio states that there are masses of people, who, because of hunger, have the absolute and unmitigated right to emigrate to our countries. However, if the current flow of migrants were really caused by hunger, the drama of [lack of] food should be dealt with there [in their own countries] not by forcing the hungry to uproot their lives and find themselves in the hands of the merchants of death.”
He continues: “The Church has always taught differently from Bergoglio on this issue. John Paul II for example, said that: ‘the primary right of man is [to be able] to live in his own country: a right, however, becomes effective only if the factors that spur immigration are constantly monitored.’ And Benedict XVI repeated: ‘In the current socio-political context… the right not to immigrate must be affirmed even before the right to immigrate, that is to say — to be in the condition to remain in one’s own country.'”
And he adds: “The African Church, in line with the perennial Magisterium until Wojtyla and Ratzinger, speaks even now of the duty not to immigrate. A few days ago, the African Bishops launched an appeal to the youth of their countries: ‘Do not let yourselves be deceived by the illusion of leaving your countries in search of non-existent employment in Europe and America.'”
Socci, it should be noted, is speaking of “economic” migrants, those seeking a better life, not of “political” migrants, those fleeing violence and death in their home countries, whose reason for emigration is absolutely compelling. (link)
And that seems to be the situation here.
Clearly, the turmoil caused in the Middle East by the last decade of wars in Iraq and Syria are driving hundreds of thousands to flee their homelands.
And the countries most affected are Turkey and Lebanon, where the number of immigrants and refugees exceed 1 million each, not European countries.
In Europe, life in the past half century has, for the most part, been peaceful and prosperous.
But there are already signs, in the war in Ukraine, in the struggle in Hungary to deal with the flow of refugees, and in the fluctuations in the financial markets that could presage another downward turn as in 2008, that even Europe may experience the need for a “culture of solidarity” in the years ahead.
In this context, the appeal of Francis becomes not only urgent, but prophetic.
In his call to Catholics to “be opened” to that mercy — on the eve of the Holy Year of Mercy — that makes Christians willing to embrace the Syrian and Iraqi refugees (many of them Christian, but even more of them Muslim), offering them a place to stay, and helping them to begin a new life, Francis is preparing all of us for a future in which each of us may need to find a place of refuge.
That is, Francis is saying, be no longer deaf and dumb — no longer unhearing and unspeaking, and unacting, in regard to the terrible suffering of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have been set in motion by the chaos of the civil wars in the Middle East.
And in so doing, he is laying the basis for a future of friendship between Muslims and Christians, breaking with the vision of a “clash of civilizations” which sees the coming century as inevitably one of Christian-Muslim conflict.
The Pope’s call today, then, is the dramatic and game-changing move of a man who wants to move history in a different direction than envisioned by the fomenters of conflict, and purveyors of arms.
Here is a Reuters report on the Pope’s words today:
Pope calls on every European parish to host one migrant family each
By Reuters | Vatican City
Sunday, 6 September 2015
Pope Francis called on Sunday on every European parish and religious community to take in one migrant family each in a gesture of solidarity he said would start in the tiny Vatican state where he lives.
“I appeal to the parishes, the religious communities, the monasteries and sanctuaries of all Europe to … take in one family of refugees,” he said after his Sunday address in the Vatican.
The Pope’s call goes out to tens of thousands of Catholic parishes in Europe as the number of refugees arriving over land through the Balkans and across the Mediterranean to Italy and Greece hits record levels.
There are more than 25,000 parishes in Italy alone, and more than 12,000 in Germany, where many of the Syrians fleeing civil war and people trying to escape poverty and hardship in other countries say they want to end up.
The crowd in St. Peter’s Square applauded as the pontiff, himself the grandson of Italian emigrants to Argentina, said: “Every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe, take in one family.”
The Vatican’s two parishes will take in a family of refugees each in the coming days, said Francis, whose first trip after his election was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, halfway between Sicily and Tunisia, where many migrants arrive by boat.
The Italian coast guard said on Saturday it had coordinated the rescue of 329 migrants who made distress calls from their rubber boats.
Francis said taking in migrant families was a “concrete gesture” to prepare for the extraordinary Holy Year on the theme of mercy which is due to begin on December 8.
And here is the Pope’s reflection, also today, on today’s Gospel reading:
ANGELUS ADDRESS: On Restoring Communication
“His deafness expresses the inability to hear and to understand, not just the words of man, but also the Word of God”
Vatican City, September 06, 2015 (ZENIT.org)
Here is a ZENIT translation of the address Pope Francis gave today before and after praying the midday Angelus with those gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
The Gospel of today relates Jesus’ healing of a man who was deaf and unable to speak, an incredible event that shows how Jesus re-establishes the full communication of man with God and with other people.
The miracle is set in the district of the Decapolis., that is, in completely pagan territory; thus, this deaf man who is brought before Jesus becomes the symbol of an unbeliever who completes a journey to faith.
In effect, his deafness expresses the inability to hear and to understand, not just the words of man, but also the Word of God. And St. Paul reminds us that “faith comes from what is heard.”
The first thing that Jesus does is take this man far from the crowd: He doesn’t want to give publicity to this action that he’s going to carry out, but he also doesn’t want his word to be lost in the din of voices and the chatter of those around.
The Word of God that Christ brings us needs silence to be welcomed as the Word that heals, that reconciles and re-establishes communication.
Then we are told about two movements Jesus made.
He touches the ears and the tongue of the deaf man.
To re-establish the relationship with this man who is “blocked” in communication, he first seeks to re-establish contact.
But the miracle is a gift that comes from on high, which Jesus implores from the Father. That’s why he raises his eyes to the heavens and orders, “Be opened.”
And the ears of the deaf man are opened, the knot of his tongue is untied and he begins to speak correctly.
The lesson we can take from this episode is that God is not closed in on himself, but instead he opens himself and places himself in communication with humanity.
In his immense mercy, he overcomes the abyss of the infinite difference between Him and us, and comes to meet us.
To bring about this communication with man, God becomes man.
It is not enough for him to speak to us through the law and the prophets, but instead he makes himself present in the person of his Son, the Word made flesh.
Jesus is the great “bridge-builder” who builds in himself the great bridge of full communion with the Father.
But this Gospel speaks to us also about ourselves: Often we are drawn up and closed in ourselves, and we create many inaccessible and inhospitable islands.
Even the most basic human relationships can sometimes create realities incapable of reciprocal openness: the couple closed in, the family closed in, the group closed in, the parish closed in, the country closed in.
And this is not of God. This is ours. This is our sin.
However, at the origin of our Christian life, in baptism, precisely that gesture and that word of Jesus are present: “Ephphatha!” “Be opened!”
And the miracle has been worked.
We have been healed of the deafness of egotism and the muteness of being closed in on ourselves, and of sin, and we have been inserted into the great family of the Church.
We can hear God who speaks to us and communicates his Word to those who have never before heard it, or to the one who has forgotten it and buried it under the thorns of the anxieties and the traps of the world.
Let us ask the Virgin Mary, a woman of listening and of joyful testimony, that she sustains us in the commitment to profess our faith and to communicate the marvels of the Lord to those we find along our way.
[Praying of the Angelus]
Dear brothers and sisters,
God’s mercy is seen through our works, as shown us by the life of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whose anniversary of death we marked yesterday.
Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees who flee death from war and hunger, and who have begun a journey moved by vital hope, the Gospel calls us to be “neighbors” of the weakest and the abandoned. To give them concrete hope.
It’s not enough to say, “Take heart. Be patient.” Christian hope has a fighting spirit, with the tenacity of one who goes toward a sure goal.
Therefore, before the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy, I make an appeal to parishes, religious communities, monasteries and shrines of all Europe, that they give expression to an application of the Gospel and welcome a family of refugees. A concrete gesture in preparation for the Holy Year of Mercy. That every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every shrine of Europe welcome one family, beginning with my Diocese of Rome.
I address my brother bishops of Europe, true pastors, so that in their dioceses they back my appeal, remembering that Mercy is the second name of Love: “What you have done for the least of my brothers, that you have done for me.”
The two parishes of the Vatican will also in the coming days welcome two families of refugees.
I wish you all a good Sunday. And please, don’t forget to pray for me. Have a good lunch and see you soon!
Text found here (link).
Note: For those who would like to travel with us on pilgrimage:
We have several pilgrimages schedule in the coming year. For the complete schedule, click here.
On December 8, 2015, and again on November 20, 2016, we will be in Rome when Pope Francis opens the Holy Door to begin the Special Jubilee Year of Mercy, and when he closes the door to end the Jubilee Year. If you would like to join us on one or more of these pilgrimages, email now for more information…
We also often travel to Norcia, in central Italy, where there is a flourishing Benedictine monastery we visit.
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What is the glory of God?
“The glory of God is man alive; but the life of man is the vision of God.” —St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the territory of France, in his great work Against All Heresies, written c. 180 A.D.