Pope Francis and Zamboanga’s refugees

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Pope Francis' words on refugees resound in conflict-stricken Zamboanga City

ZAMBOANGA'S REFUGEES. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos flee their homes because of the Zamboanga siege. Photo by AFP

MANILA, Philippines – “Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity.”

In a recent message that resounds in conflict-stricken Zamboanga City, Pope Francis appealed for a “change of attitude” toward migrants and refugees. He said humanity “cannot remain silent about the scandal of poverty in its various forms.”

“A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – toward attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just, and fraternal world,” Francis said.

The Pope said this in his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees that the Vatican released last Tuesday, September 24. That was 4 days before Interior Secretary Mar Roxas declared that the Zamboanga siege was over.

READ: Zamboanga City Hall reopens after 21 days

The crisis in Zamboanga forced at least 118,000 civilians to flee their homes. 

The Philippine government and non-governmental organizations have launched appeals for help. Rappler has compiled various initiatives through the following link. 

READ: #AyudaZamboanga: Relief operations for Zamboanga 

(Watch more in the video below.)

READ: Zamboanga City: A visual diary

In his message for migrants and refugees, Francis also addressed migration across borders. He said solving this requires cooperation among nations.

“It must also be emphasized that such cooperation begins with the efforts of each country to create better economic and social conditions at home, so that emigration will not be the only option left for those who seek peace, justice, security, and full respect of their human dignity,” the Pope said.

Since the start of his papacy, Francis has shown deep concern for the needy, including migrants and refugees.

Last September 10 alone, he visited the Jesuits’ Astalli refugee center in Rome, and stressed solidarity even if the word “elicits fear in the developed world.” “It’s almost a dirty word for them. But it’s our word! To serve means to recognize and welcome the demands for justice, for hope, and to seek ways together, a concrete path of liberation.”

He added: “Hospitality in itself isn’t enough. It’s not enough to give a sandwich if it isn’t accompanied by the possibility of learning to stand on one’s own feet. Charity that does not change the situation of the poor isn’t enough. True mercy, which God gives and teaches us, calls for justice, for a way in which the poor can find a way out of poverty.”

The Pope also urged the religious to open their empty convents to refugees, and not merely to turn these into money-making hotels. “Empty convents are not ours; they are for the flesh of Christ, for refugees. The Lord is calling upon us to be more courageous and generous in welcoming in our community, homes, in empty convents.”

PRAYING FOR MIGRANTS. Pope Francis speaks with migrants during his visit to the island of Lampedusa, southern Italy, on July 8. Pope Francis arrives at the tiny Sicilian island of Lampedusa to pray for migrants lost at sea. Photo by EPA/Alessandra Tarantino/Pool.

In July, Francis visited migrants during his first trip outside Rome, and slammed the so-called “globalization of indifference.” “We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion – ‘suffering with’ others: the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep.”

READ: #ReliefPH: Pope Francis on disaster, charity

He said, “Today has anyone wept in our world?” – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com