We publish here the homily of Father Jamal Khader, rector of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jala, for the celebration of World Migrants’ Day in Jaffa on January 16, 2016.

In his message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Francis begins with the words: “God is not indifferent! God cares about mankind! God does not abandon us!”.

Looking back to 2015, where we witnessed war in many countries, we saw millions of displaced people and the sufferings of millions of refugees in what was described as the biggest wave of refugees since the Second World War. Many were forced to leave their homes, and many died in their way to find a refuge from war and famine; today we pray for all of them. With all this, we see the inequality among individuals and peoples and the indifference of the world. This indifference and silence lead to complicity whenever we stand by as people are suffering, deaf to their cry. If many human beings are indifferent, God is not indifferent!

Last December, the Holy Father declared the “Year of Mercy”. He calls us to meditate on the merciful face of God and to preach and practice the Gospel of Mercy; although it is not easy to see the mercy of God in the middle of our sufferings, we believe in a good loving God, father of all human beings. In the midst of our sufferings, we as believers, we do not ask: “where is God?”, but we say: “Where are YOU God?” It is a prayer addressed to God asking for his justice and mercy.

The plan of God for his sons and daughters is a plan of mercy. Mercy is the response of God to human sins and human suffering. He revealed his mercy in the Son whom he sent to redeem us and save us from sin. He opens his arms to welcome the prodigal son; he is ready to forgive all our sins and debts. The parable of the Gospel today shows the mercy of the king towards his servant who was not able to pay back his debts. It is an image of how much more our merciful God is ready to forgive and show compassion.

God shows mercy through his Son, Jesus Christ, and through his sons and daughters who practice mercy in their lives. The problem with the servant who refused to forgive his brother in the parable is that he was forgiven, he was released from his debts, but he refused to forgive. He experienced mercy, the mercy of God, and he refused to do mercy to his brother. He is so similar to us when we treat others with a heart of stone, not a heart of flesh, without mercy. He refused to acknowledge the other servant as his brother, and himself as his brother’s keeper.

The year of mercy that we are celebrating this year calls us to experience the love and mercy of God, and to practice mercy towards the others. The mercy of God can reach the other through our acts of mercy. When we practice love and mercy, the others can experience the love and the mercy of God. When we feed the hungry, when we give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless, visit the sick, it is through us that God acts, and those who suffer can know and experience the mercy of God. “Mercy is the heart of God. It must also be the heart of the members of the one great family of his children: a heart which beats more strongly wherever human dignity is at risk. Wherever the church is present, the mercy of God the Father must be evident”. (Message for the World Day of Peace). The Bible urges us to welcome the stranger, as in doing so, we open our doors to God, and that in the faces of others we see the face of Christ himself: “you shall love the alien as yourself”, as we read in the book of Leviticus few minutes ago. Jesus himself is standing at the door, knocking; if we hear his voice and open the door, he will come in to us and be with us (Revelation).

In a world where migrants and refugees are exposed to all kinds of exploitation, let us be the loving heart of God; in a world where the refugee is fleeing away from death and poverty, let us be the caring hands of God to them; in the case that we suffered poverty, exploitation or fear, let us be the loving instruments in God’s hands to show mercy and love. “Mercy nourishes and strengthens solidarity towards others as a necessary response to God’s gracious love”, tells us the Holy Father in his message on this day. Welcoming others means welcoming God in person!
Let us be the heart of this heartless world.

Migration and seeking a new refuge is a plight in our modern world. The emigrant leaves his or her home and family behind; they leave a piece of themselves behind looking for a new life; and this is a cause of suffering. In the land where he or she chooses to take refuge, they suffer often from the fact of being migrants of refugees. Our dignity comes from being created and loved by God, not because of our papers, our color, our race or our origin. That is why every human being needs to be treated with dignity.

The waves of emigration is a sign of the failure of the international community and governments to stop wars, demonstrate solidarity with the poor countries and work for equitable distribution of earth’s goods. But emigration can be an opportunity for the coexistence of various cultures and different peoples. The emigrants carry with them their own language, culture, history and ways of life, and even the local cuisine. The emigration can help us appreciate differences and celebrate our diversity. Over time, this plight of emigration can be a source of mutual enrichment. That is why it is important to respect the dignity and the rights of every human being and every emigrant, and it is important for emigrants to respect the laws of the country that welcomes them. God created us with our differences, and his will is to see his children living together as brothers and sisters, not as enemies.

Let us pray that every one of us will have a humble and compassionate heart, one capable of proclaiming and witnessing to mercy; to act in solidarity with those who suffer, to demonstrate concern and care for the more vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph were asked to leave Bethlehem and take refuge in Egypt, as King Herod wanted to kill the new born Jesus. Mary and Joseph were afraid for the life of Jesus. As any mother and father, they were ready to do anything for their child. They took the baby Jesus, and fled to Egypt, crossing the desert, the Sinai, on their way to Egypt. Sinai was not and is still not a safe place to cross, especially for a young couple with a baby. They became refugees in Egypt. The Holy Family experienced fear, danger and anxiety; they became refugees in Egypt. Let us turn to them, as they know what it means to be an emigrant and a refugee; let us ask their intercession. Let us entrust our lives and the lives of those whom we love and those whom we left back at home.

Mary, mother of Jesus and our mother; you protected Jesus from Herod, you fled to Egypt to save him. Protect us from all Herods of our time, and save us. Saint Joseph, be our guardian on our ways, in our lives. Holy Family, help our families to learn from you to practice love and mercy, hospitality and trust in God. We pray to you to strengthen all those who work in helping the migrants and refugees, those who sacrifice for the others, giving them food, shelter and love.

Holy Mary, be our mother and our refuge. Amen