A Concrete Hope: Francis and the Refugee Crisis

A year ago I moved to Spain. I arrived with a suitcase, a backpack, and a guitar stuffed full of socks and underwear. I entered Europe with a student visa and a whole lot of support.

It wasn’t easy. The whole process took months. I stood in lots of lines. Filled out many forms — duplicates of duplicates of duplicates. I took more passport photos than ever ought to be in circulation. I collected signatures, stamps, and piles of spent metro stubs. I met many unhelpful bureaucrats (with a few exceptions) and lots of armed guards (with none). I was less than patient. I was often frustrated. I regularly failed to remember that I was privileged from the start. In each step of the process I stood in line with many people far more desperate than I.

In the year since, there have been thousands of reminders of how how fortunate I am to be here. These reminders show up every morning on the front page of our daily papers and with pings in my various newsfeeds. Dozens upon dozens of images. There were the men barefoot and bloodied on the fence. There was the boy in the suitcase. And then there were the drownings. 300. 700. 250. Who’s counting? There was the baby in the deep blue sea. There was the boy on the beach. Hardly a day went by without an image worthy of outrage.

Perhaps because of the scale of the problem, the complexity of its cause, or because of the deep and abiding sadness in the face of this crisis, there has been much talk and many wearied shoulder shrugging responses: What can you do? It’s complicated. It’s too much. It’s always the same. It never ends.

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Pope Francis famously speaks an encouraging word, but this week his simple style took a decidedly more practical turn: “I invite every parish to welcome one refugee family,” he said.

No vague just-do-what-you-can‘s. No ideological nuance. Just a simple affirmation of the gospel mandate — Be close to the small and vulnerable, give concrete witness to the truth of hope, and invite a single family into your home.

There is no response more basic or more meaningful than this. Mary and Joseph are looking for a safe place to give birth to the hope that is Christ in a dark and dangerous place. There is nothing more essential to our Christian faith than making room for them, than inviting them in.

Many questions remain. What will they do? Where will they go? How long will they stay? There are no answers but there are responses — feed, clothe, shelter. Perhaps the only question worth asking at this point is simply this: Are we open? Will their combative hope find a home in us?

If we do what he asks we stop shrugging shoulders and millions begin to move. Phone calls are made. Lists of available homes are dispersed to overburdened processing centers. A neighbor helps carry an extra cot into the spare bedroom. A pot of coffee is put to boil while a child is sent to the corner store to buy another loaf of bread. A young couple stretches a set of clean sheets over an old mattress. A grandmother wonders if she knows anyone who speaks Arabic and, if so, how does one say ‘You’re welcome.’

***

As Francis observes, “Even the most basic human relationships sometimes create a reality incapable of reciprocal opening: the closed couple, the closed family, the closed group, the closed parish, the closed home.” And yet, he continues, “the Gospel calls us to be neighbors to the smallest and abandoned, and to give them a concrete hope.”

His love is real. His math is simple. His invitation awaits a comprehensive response.

My community will continue to participate in the coordinated efforts of the Jesuit network here in Madrid. We have certain privileges in that this network has been working to receive migrants for decades and our communities in Spain have already made concrete the hospitality Francis desires by welcoming migrants and refugees into our homes. But we have always more to do.

If you are looking to support these efforts we welcome your collaboration. Consider making a donation to the Jesuit Refugee Service (here’s a link) or some other aid organization that will make concrete your faith, hope, and love. Continue to pay attention in prayer and education to the reality of migrants and refugees around the world. Participate in your local elections and demand from political candidates compassionate responses to migration in place of ignorant xenophobic foolishness.

Millions are seeking a safe place for their children. Let’s give them a concrete hope.
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