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The Church is also ‘migrating’, says Pope Francis

In his message for the World Day of Migrants, the Pope connects the synodal experience with migration and reminds us that God is both with and in migrants.

“The encounter with the migrant, as with every brother and sister in need, ‘is also an encounter with Christ’,” says Pope Francis in his message for the 110th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, presented on June 3, 2024. The ‘Itinerant nature’ of the Church as ‘the People of God traveling on a pilgrimage through history’, he describes it as ‘migrating’, we might say, towards the Kingdom of Heaven.

The 110th World Day of Migrants and Refugees is celebrated on September 29. The day was established in 1914 by Pope Pius X, on the eve of World War I, and was originally intended to help Italian migrants around the world.

The full text of the Pope’s message for this year can be found here.

Migration and the synodal experience

The Pope’s message for this occasion takes as its starting point the synodal experience of October 2023 in Rome. The Synod on Synodality is intended as a learning experience on the ‘common journey of the people of God’ and can therefore be compared to the experience of migration.

He bases his work on the biblical episode of the Exodus, in which the people of Israel wandered through the desert for forty years, fleeing the slavery of the pharaohs of Egypt.

Pope Francis receives a life jacket from a member of SOS Mediterranee, a European NGO that rescues migrants at sea
Pope Francis receives a life jacket from a member of SOS Mediterranee, a European NGO that rescues migrants at sea

Photo by Handout / VATICAN MEDIA / AFP

This “long journey from slavery to freedom, which foreshadows the Church’s journey to her final encounter with the Lord” is comparable, the Pope claims, to the experience of “the migrants of our time.”

“Just like the people of Israel in the time of Moses, migrants often flee oppression, abuse, insecurity, discrimination and lack of development opportunities,” he says.

God is with and in migrants

“God precedes and accompanies his people and all his children at every time and in every place,” the Pope added. Therefore, “the encounter with the migrant, as with every brother and sister in need, ‘is also an encounter with Christ,’” he said.

Pope Francis says many migrants “experience God as their traveling companion, guide and anchor of salvation.”

“How many Bibles, copies of the Gospels, prayer books and rosaries accompany migrants on their journeys across deserts, rivers, seas and the borders of every continent!” he exclaims.

Quoting the Gospel of St. Matthew, the Pope affirms that the Bible “leaves no doubt” about the place of the migrant: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

Every encounter with a migrant, he emphasizes, is therefore an ‘occasion charged with redemption’.

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Prayer for a heart open to migrants

The text ends with a prayer especially dedicated to this day:

God, Almighty Father,
we are your pilgrim church
on a journey to the Kingdom of Heaven.
We live in our homeland,
but as if we were foreigners.
Every strange place is our home,
yet every native land is foreign to us.
Though we live on earth,
our true citizenship is in heaven.
Let us not become possessive
of the part of the world
you have given us as temporary shelter.
Help us to keep walking,
together with our migrant brothers and sisters,
to the eternal home which you have prepared for us.
Open our eyes and our hearts
so that every encounter with people in need
will be an encounter with Jesus, your Son and our Lord.
Amen.

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A Syrian man carries his daughter as refugees leave the makeshift Idomeni camp in northern Greece