Pope Francis called for a week of action and prayer for refugees, starting on the anniversary the Christian fleet defeating the Islamic invasion of Europe.
Francis called for the week of prayer as part of a two-year initiative, Share the Journey, launched with Caritas Internationalis (CI) — a Catholic relief and social services organization — on Wednesday to aid refugee families and spread Catholic social teachings, according to America Magazine. The week of prayer will begin Oct. 7, the anniversary of the 1571 Battle of Lepanto when the Christian fleet formed by countries of the Holy League and various Papal states defeated the Ottomans and turned the tide against the Muslim conquest of Europe.
The Catholic Church celebrates the victory of that battle as the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, remembering the battle as the day the Blessed Virgin Mary interceded on behalf of the Christian forces to halt the Islamization of Europe. (Related: One Million Catholics To Join Mass Rosary On Poland’s Border)
The timing seems ironic, given that the majority of refugees fleeing to Europe are Muslim and that Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, president of CI, has admonished governments to “keep your doors open” and not turn refugees away. Tagle’s appeal may find opposition among certain communities, like those in Germany who have dealt with Salafist Muslim gangs, or those in Sweden where Islamic extremists have dominated several communities where police fear to tread. Even Italy has stopped refugee migration from Libya and begun working instead with Libyan militias to cease migrant traffic, though Francis gave his approval to Italy’s move.
The initiative, according to Tagle, aims to create a “culture of encounter” between migrants and refugees and the communities into which they move.
“Fear comes first from the unknown,” Tagle said. “Many people who are against migration or receiving migrants have not even met a real migrant or a real refugee, have not even touched the hand of someone forced to flee a war, have not even smelled the misery of these people. So we wonder, ‘What are you afraid of? Where is this fear coming from?'”
The fear Tagle references, however, appears to come from both migrants and the residents of the communities in which they live, based not only on cultural unfamiliarity but also on adversarial encounters and high profile terrorist attacks perpetrated by migrants.. Failure of Muslim migrants and refugees to culturally integrate with their new European communities, coupled with migrants’ experiences of rising social discrimination, however, has led to increased tension between them. (Related: Anti-Islamic Discrimination Rising In Countries Attacked By Jihadis)
Caring for refugees and migrants is necessary according to Catholic teaching, Joan Rosenhauer, executive vice president of U.S. operations for Catholic Relief Services.
“Catholic social teaching has clear messages of caring for strangers, the importance of hearing their stories and understanding their needs,” Rosenhauer told Catholic News Service.
The initiative will focus primarily on sharing the stories of migrants and refugees in an effort to foster understanding as to why the individuals left their home countries in search of better lives, and the struggles they have faced. The 165 development agencies that comprise CI, as well as several other Catholic organizations, pledged to partner globally for this initiative: both to help Catholic faithful explore the Church’s social teachings relevant to migrants and refugees, and to spread Catholic teaching to people groups affected by the current migrant and refugee crises.
“The hope is that through the stories that are presented, the images presented, that people will be moved from their place of comfort to a place of encounter. That’s what the church is calling us to. That’s what the pope is calling us to,” Kristin Witte of Catholic Relief Services told America Magazine.
Francis launched the initiative in light of the 65.6 million forcibly displaced migrants around the world, as reported by the UN High Commission for Refugees. 22.2 million of those reported forcibly displaced are refugees, 55 percent of which come from Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan.
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