Pope Francis on Refugees: An Example for All Faiths

Pope Francis on Refugees Since Pope Francis took his place as the leader of the Roman Catholic church in March 2013, he has inserted himself into debates surrounding controversial issues like immigration and interfaith relations. Throughout his three years in the public eye he has presented his views with a humility unprecedented in high ranking religious leaders. He has not apologized for his beliefs nor tried to soften his convictions for those who do not agree with him, and he has translated his faith into public practice over and over again. His response to the refugee crisis over the last three years (both theologically and practically) has been filled with gentle grace and great compassion.

So, here are a few things we can learn from Pope Francis on refugees:

1. Pope Francis believes everyone is worthy of receiving compassion. He doesn't think that Muslims or Hindus (or evangelical Christians, for that matter) are unworthy of receiving compassion and finding refuge from violence and war. Rather, he believes that our common humanity alone is what makes everyone worthy and deserving of generous compassion. In his January message given on Roman Catholic Church's World Day for Migrants and Refugees Pope Francis ended by saying,

At the heart of the Gospel of mercy the encounter and acceptance by others are intertwined with the encounter and acceptance of God himself.Welcoming others means welcoming God in person! Do not let yourselves be robbed of the hope and joy of life born of your experience of God’s mercy, as manifested in the people you meet on your journey!

I think we should be able to agree that all people are deserving of compassion and dignity, whether or not we believe in God. I want others to treat me with dignity and compassion, but I cannot demand of others what I am unwilling to reciprocate.

2. Pope Francis also believes everyone is capable of giving compassion. It isn't uncommon for adherents to various faiths to develop a superiority complex and begin to think that they are the only people capable of extending effective compassion to the hurting. I've heard fellow evangelical Christians dismiss Pope Francis's compassionate response to refugees as disingenuous and laced with ulterior motives, simply because he is Roman Catholic and they don't agree with his theology.

Hate to break it to you, friends, but "Pope Francis prays to Mary, therefore he must not really care about refugees" is a textbook logical fallacy. Who are we to tell God that he can't use the Pope the spread a message of compassion for refugees just because he doesn't believe exactly the same things that we do? Instead, let's join Pope Francis in saying we stand "at the side of all who work to defend each person’s right to live with dignity."

3. Pope Francis doesn't just talk big. He acts big too. The Pope is constantly putting his faith into practice when it comes to refugees and immigrants. As a part of Easter celebrations this year, Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve refugees, including Muslims and Hindus. Last month he visited the Greek island of Lesbos where thousands of migrants are waiting for the results of their asylum applications. He took three of those refugee families home to the Vatican with him. During a February visit to the U.S.-Mexico border, Pope Francis prayed for those who have died trying to cross the border and blessed a group of undocumented immigrants. Over and over again he has demonstrated that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:26).

4. But he does talk big, because he believes big! Pope Francis doesn't believe there is a limit to what God can do, even when all God has to work with are sinful, selfish, and fearful people. He believes that God will have his way, regardless of whether or not he chooses to participate in what God is doing. Now, friends, I don't agree with Pope Francis on everything by far, but I do agree with this. I have to commend his desire to be on the right side of both history and eternity because I desire the same. You may not believe what Pope Francis does, but you can join him in his optimism and belief that good things can come of the tragedy that is the refugee crisis.

5. Pope Francis has a healthy view of his own role. Pope Francis is neither arrogant nor self-deprecating. He recognizes that he is an ordinary man who has been given an extraordinary position at a very important time in history. His position has not caused him to change his beliefs or alter his actions, but instead given him an opportunity to influence the world for good. We too, can learn from Pope Francis in this respect. Many people I talk to feel that they cannot possibly make a positive difference in the refugee crisis because they are just one person. But that is not true. Acknowledge the role that you have in your own circle of influence. There are things you can do to make a difference. For some concrete ideas check out my post Four Ways to Change the Refugee Crisis.

Pope Francis is in a very powerful position that gives him the authority to speak to every Roman Catholic parish in the world, and also influence the opinions of many others. But his authority cannot determine what beliefs and actions he chooses to promote. When I recall that the Roman Catholic church has committed atrocities like the Crusades and Inquisition under the authority of the Pope, I am thankful that Pope Francis has exercised his authority to urge the church to welcome refugees in the name of religion, rather than shut them out. Though I do not agree with everything he says, I am thankful for the grace-filled voice of Pope Francis and its ability to temper the voices of fear and anger that currently abound.

For more Pope Francis on refugees: Messages World Day of Migrants and Refugees

Image Source: Flickr