In mid-July, on the sixth anniversary of his pastoral visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa — one of the main entry points to Europe for refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa — Pope Francis said in his homily during a Mass for migrants at St. Peter’s Basilica that his “thoughts go out to those ‘least ones’ who daily cry out to the Lord, asking to be freed from the evils that afflict them. These least ones are abandoned and cheated into dying in the desert; these least ones are tortured, abused and violated in detention camps … [and] are left in reception camps too long for them to be called temporary. … In the spirit of the beatitudes we are called to comfort them in their affliction and offer them mercy.”
In the same homily, Pope Francis used the imagery of Jacob’s ladder, saying: “In Christ Jesus, the connection between earth and heaven is guaranteed and is accessible to all. Yet climbing the steps of this ladder requires commitment, effort and grace. … I like to think that we could be those angels ascending and descending, taking under our wings the little ones, the lame, the sick, those excluded: the least ones, who would otherwise stay behind and would experience only grinding poverty on earth, without glimpsing in this life anything of heaven’s brightness.”
In short, Pope Francis is calling us to be saints on earth, and he is not alone in asking the faithful to take a bold step toward heaven. It is in this spirit of offering concrete help to migrants that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is encouraging all who are able to consider becoming foster parents to refugee youths.
Chanica Brown, the program director of the St. Jerome Foster Care program in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, reminds people that these children are not political pawns: “It’s important for people to know that our clients are kids, and that no matter where they came from, no matter what their circumstances were, they are still children and youths in need of our help.”
Certainly, not everyone has the resources to take a refugee child into his or her home, but each is called to do whatever is possible to die to self and make room for Christ in their own family, and we find perfect examples of such virtuous living within the lives of the saints. In the In Focus (online July 26), Leonard DeLorenzo of the University of Notre Dame profiles four married couples who took up their crosses daily as they climbed the ladder to heaven by living in faithful service to Christ. These saints were not unlike us. They were not supernatural beings whom God gifted extraordinary virtues. They faced adversities big and small; they struggled with their faith, with their relationships, with raising their children. But through each struggle, they consistently and actively made choices to follow God’s will, as difficult as it was to do so, and by choosing righteousness, they not only honored God but sanctified themselves and their children by modeling Christ. They did the work, day in and day out.
We are called to do the same. And so, when we see the human faces of this ongoing refugee crisis as we casually scroll through our social media feeds or mindlessly flip through cable news programs, we must ask ourselves: Are we living and loving like Christ? Are we showing our children or grandchildren that these migrants, regardless of legal status, also are children of God and must be treated as such. Are we, as Pope Francis said, being “those angels ascending and descending, taking under our wings the little ones, the lame, the sick, those excluded”?
Are we doing the work to sanctify ourselves and model the love of Christ to our children, our families and our neighbors?
Are we being the saints that we’re called to be?
OSV Editorial Board: Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, York Young