World News

Pope Francis Puts Focus on Refugees in Christmas Eve Mass

Posted December 24, 2017 4:56 p.m. EST

ROME — Pope Francis on Sunday used the Christmas Eve Mass that amplifies his voice around the globe to focus on refugees and migrants, drawing a parallel between their travails and that of the holy family at the time of Jesus’s birth.

Recalling that Mary gave birth to Jesus in a manger because “there was no place for them in the inn,” Francis highlighted the biblical story in a present day in which the White House has restricted travel for people from predominantly Muslim countries, the Myanmar military has carried out a vicious campaign against a stateless Rohingya minority, and wars, human trafficking and the indifference of wealthy nations have resulted in millions of families languishing in squalid refugee camps.

Using the example of the holy family to emphasize the “dangers that attend those who have to leave their home behind,” Francis noted that in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary found a city “that had no room or place for the stranger from afar,” and which “seemed to want to build itself up by turning its back on others.”

Since his election in 2013, Francis has spoken out for refugees, and often says the families fleeing conflict or economic hardship are the heirs of his religion’s prophet. In Bangladesh a few weeks ago, he spoke of neighboring Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority, saying, “The presence of God today is also called Rohingya.”

But on Sunday night in St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis further elevated the plight of the world’s castaways, saying that their footsteps followed those trudged by Joseph and the pregnant Mary to the manger.

“We see the tracks of millions of persons who do not choose to go away but, driven from their land, leave behind their dear ones,” he said, adding that while some seek a better life, “for many others this departure can only have one name: survival.”

The pope, who recently turned 81, is in the fifth year of a papacy that supporters and critics have both called “revolutionary.” On Sunday night he made clear that the outcasts of the global periphery are front and center to his mission.

He has repeatedly called on Western nations to resist the pull of nationalism — as well as the destabilizing fear of migrants — and to open their doors. On Christmas Eve, he recalled the famous appeal of John Paul II to opponents of Communism, that they should “Be not afraid,” “open wide the doors” and have confidence that their cause was just and would prevail.

Francis repurposed the message as an appeal for hospitality to the world’s forsaken. “Christmas is a time for turning the power of fear into the power of charity,” he said.