13 April 2018
Rome, 13 April 2018 – The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) welcomes the newly-released Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, “Rejoice and be glad.” Pope Francis reminds us to rejoice and be glad because Jesus has called us all to be saints: to be men and women of God, to be men and women for others.
The signs of holiness for Pope Francis are to be found not just in love of God, but in love of neighbour: one cannot claim to live a Christian life without actively working for the good of one’s neighbour. Pope Francis goes as far as to cite St Thomas Aquinas to argue the point that “works of mercy towards our neighbour” show our love for God even more than our acts of worship.
Holiness is practical and achievable. It is to be found and lived in everyday life, and often in just the patient enduring and striving that mark the commonplace lives of ordinary people: “in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile…in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence.”
When Pope Francis goes on to speak of migrants as “those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children,” he clearly intends us to regard such migrants as saints, because of the immense love that they have for their children. Furthermore, he says that our own claims to holiness, to living the Christian life, are to be judged by how we treat these migrants, the poor, the victims of human trafficking, the abandoned, the rejected: “We cannot uphold an ideal of holiness that would ignore injustice.”
Pope Francis insists that the situation of migrants is not a lesser issue for Christians than “grave” bioethical issues such as abortion. He cites Matthew’s gospel, which calls us to welcome the stranger because in doing so we welcome Jesus, and he reminds us that this call to welcome the stranger lies deep in the roots of our faith: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21); “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
Pope Francis has consistently shown a profound concern for refugees and migrants, and has been criticised in some circles for being “naïve” about the risks of mass migration. In Gaudete et Exsultate he answers his critics, and the prophets of doom, by saying that the call to welcome the stranger “is not a notion invented by some Pope, or a momentary fad.” To welcome refugees and migrants is to welcome Christ himself; to turn away from the stranger is to turn away from the call to holiness.
Click here for the full text of the Exhortation (available in different languages)