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Simple yet profound message from the pope

Give love, justice and compassion to the poor and the needy, and for the most part you will get the same in return. 

Treat others as you yourself want to be treated. This was the bottom line of the message of Pope Francis to the world on his missionary journey to Cuba and the United States of America (US).

Speaking to the American people at the White House and in the Congress, Pope Francis made it clear that migrants and refugees must be welcomed and treated with the greatest respect and compassion.

Aware that he himself was born of Italian migrants to Argentina, he reminded the American people of the gospel value to do unto others as you would want them to do to you (Matthew7:12). It is a great challenge for all people in the developed world to reach out and welcome the refugees and migrants.

But it was migrants that built most of the US. The founding settlers were migrants fleeing religious persecution and bigotry in Europe. Millions of Filipinos, Irish, Hispanics and other nationalities built the US. Refugees and migrants also built and made Europe strong and developed after the destruction of World War II.

With the present war raging in the Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, refugees endure the hardship of the badly funded refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The promised money was not delivered to the United Nations for their care.

Desperation has driven people to flee and seek better life in Europe. It is an international obligation to give protection and support to refugees. But a throwaway world easily puts obligations aside. Pope Francis challenged the US to help.

All of Europe is challenged by people fleeing war and poverty. However, several are closing their doors. Pope Francis said in the US, “Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions.

“On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them us as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.”

Pope Francis said that very same better life that we all wish for our own children should be given to those asking for the same. He called for an end to hostility towards migrants and also for an end to the death penalty.

We too have to remind ourselves that the root cause of refugees and migrants is the poverty caused by powerful nations that supported tyrants and dictators who oppressed and killed their own people for decades.

It is the global trend towards more destructive liberal capitalism that is causing the concentration of great wealth in the hands and bank accounts of the few, while millions go hungry and barely survive in most de-humanising conditions.

Pope Francis also spoke strong words about poverty and the global economy. Before the US Congress, he reminded representatives of the richest nation in the world to remember the poor.

“At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes.

“I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem. It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth…”

These remarks are softer than his speeches in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, last year, where he condemned the runaway liberal capitalism that causes conflict, suffering and poverty. “Let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change,” the pope said.

When we walk in the slums of Metro Manila where the poor are abandoned, where people live less well than pigs and chickens in the shadow of towering condominiums and skyscrapers, we see the meaning of the words of Pope Francis.

He is the pope of the poor and his simple life-style is a powerful message for us to stop and share.


• Father Shay Cullen