At first glance it's a picture that is almost idyllic: a young family – father and mother holding their baby close – setting out, riding a donkey in a desert landscape. But the caption reads another situation - no need to comment, this tragedy never seems to end – they are refugees leaving Syria for Iraq, trying to save themselves from a conflict already far too long in the running and fierce, and one which could become even more aggravated by certain choices, the consequences of which cannot be foreseen.
The photo taken in the Syrian desert seems to be a poignant and dramatic modern depiction of another flight: that of the little family of Jesus to Egypt to escape the hate of Herod, described in simple words in the Gospel of Matthew and over the course of centuries depicted countless times in East and West. With this image too many others are lining up, the number growing almost every day and from many parts of the world, all tracing the tragic contours of a very real global crisis: forced migration.
This is a recurring phenomenon that changes over the course of the centuries, in the second half of the 19th century the flux of migrants has become more dramatic and heavy as a result of conflict, to the point of creating international institutions to intervene and set up specialized organisations. In this scenario, dramatic in different parts of the world, the Holy See intervenes above all with the Apostolic Constitution Exsul familia of 1952.
Following this text of reference – which opens by pointing to the fate of the family of Nazareth as that of every person forced to flee from violence - the Church made many interventions and provisions, all designed to support the commitment of the multitude of Catholics and Christians for whom the parable of the Good Samaritan remains the criterion, as Benedict XVI wrote in his first Encyclical and as Pope Francis demonstrates to the world in different ways: by choosing Lampedusa for his first journey, by announcing his visit to the Astalli Centre in Rome and by repeatedly denouncing the crime of human trafficking, “the greatest slavery” of this century.
This commitment for the Church is unshakeable; it is repeated now in the document Welcoming Christ in refugees and forcibly displaced persons from two pontifical councils (that of Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People and Cor Unum ) published this past June. In order to confront an issue of global dimensions, one destined only to grow in the coming decades, one thing especially is required: international commitment and acceptance on the part of the Christian community.
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 20, 2019
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