IMAGE: CNS photo/Darrin Zammit Lupi, Reuters
By Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In the Year of Mercy, the Catholic
Church’s annual day of reflection and prayer on the situation of migrants and
refugees will include a special reminder that “welcoming the stranger” is a
corporal work of mercy.
For World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2016, Pope Francis
has chosen the theme: “Migrants and refugees challenge us. The response of the
Gospel of mercy,” the Vatican announced Aug. 20.
Closer to the celebration, which is Jan. 17 at the Vatican
and a full week in January for Catholics in the United States, Pope Francis
will issue a special message, the announcement said.
Explaining the pope’s choice for the theme, the Pontifical
Council for Migrants and Travelers said the pope first wants to draw Catholics’
attention to “the dramatic situation of many men and women forced to abandon
In calling a Year of Mercy beginning Dec. 8, Pope Francis
said it would be a time to overcome indifference to the needs of others, the
council said. “Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds
of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize
that we are compelled to heed their cry for help,” the pope wrote in the document
proclaiming the year.
The theme’s reference to “the Gospel of mercy,” the council
said, aims “explicitly to tie the phenomenon of migration to the response of
the world and, especially, of the church. In this context, the Holy Father
invites the Christian people to reflect during the jubilee year on the corporal
and spiritual works of mercy, which includes welcoming the stranger.”
“Christ himself is present among ‘the least,’ and at the end
of life we will be judged on how we responded with love,” the council’s
The council asked parishes and dioceses around the world to
make a special effort during the Year of Mercy to celebrate World Day of
Migrants and Refugees and, particularly, to invite migrants and refugees to be
part of the planning and commemorations.
As Italy and its politicians struggle with the country’s
immigration policy and the thousands of people arriving on Italy’s southern
shores, fleeing violence in the Middle East and northern Africa, the council
also recalled that World Day of Migrants and Refugees began in Italy in 1914.
At that time, the council noted, the issue was not caring for people
entering Italy, but raising money and training pastoral workers to minister to
Italians who had moved abroad in search of a better life for themselves and
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