20 June 2017, The Tablet

End fear and false ideologies by getting to know refugees, says Pope

'Around the world we witness the building of walls to keep out the displaced..walls of fear, prejudice, hatred, and ideology,' says JRS statement

Getting to know someone who is a refugee can remove fears and dismantle distorted ideologies, Pope Francis said.

Highlighting World Refugee Day, 20 June, the pope asked that "concrete attention go to the women, men and children fleeing from conflict, violence and persecution."

After praying the Angelus with visitors in St Peter's Square June 18, he also asked that people pray for all those who have lost their lives on land or at sea in their attempt to flee for their lives.

"Their stories of heartache and hope can become opportunities for fraternally coming together and truly getting to know each other," the pope said.

"In fact, personally meeting with refugees dispels fears and distorted ideologies" and becomes a way for people to grow in their humanity as they learn to make room for an attitude of openness and the building of bridges, he said.

Last night (19 June) Francis met with 35 refugees being hosted by families and religious communities in the diocese of Rome in St. John Lateran Basilica.

Following the meeting, the pope addressed the annual diocesan assembly of Rome, saying refugees, many of whom are Muslim, face prejudice.

“Love and fraternity go beyond religion. The violent do not possess religion, and religion does not bring violence,” the pope told the group.

Similarly, a joint ecumenical statement issued today by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and signed by 19 other NGOs and charities read: 

"Societies that find the courage and the vision to go beyond the fear of foreigners and migrants soon discover the riches that migrants bring with them, and always have." 

"Increasingly around the world we witness the building of walls to keep out the displaced: not just physical walls, but also walls of fear, prejudice, hatred, and ideology," continues the statement.

"Let us all, as one human family, strive to build bridges of solidarity rather than walls of division. Our refugee sisters and brothers present us with opportunities for mutual enrichment and flourishing: it is God who brings us together."

In March, three families from Syria were provided homes by the Vatican. The families arrived in Rome with the assistance of the Sant’Egidio community, which has worked with the Italian government to provide a “humanitarian corridor” to help prevent people avoid the dangerous sea crossing.

In April 2016, Francis brought a dozen refugees back with him on the papal plane after a visit to a refugee center on the Greek island of Lesbos.

Just a few days ago, it was revealed Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the person in charge of the pope’s charity office, had given up his Vatican apartment for a refugee family, while is said to sleep in his office.

One person becomes displaced every three seconds, the UN Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported on 19 June.

The year 2016 saw the highest number of refugees and internally displaced people ever on record, it said, with 65.6 million people being away from their homelands, 300,000 people more than at the end of 2015.

By the end of 2016, more than 40 million people were displaced within their own country, 22.5 million were refugees and 2.8 million people were seeking asylum, the report said. Half of all refugees, it said, are children under the age of 18.

World Refugee Day, held annually on 20 June, commemorates the plight and strengths of the world's refugees and asks that people show support for families forced to flee.

The UNHCR launched an ongoing #WithRefugees petition last year urging governments work together to more fairly help refugees.

PICTURE: Pope Francis is greeted by young people during a 2014 visit to the Dehiyshe Refugee Camp's Phoenix Cultural Center, near Bethlehem, West Bank.

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