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Vatican City, 18 January 2016 – Yesterday, for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Pope Francis greeted more than 6,000 refugees and migrants of at least 30 different nationalities in St Peter's Square, recognising the individual value each brings to his or her new community. He encouraged those gathered to not allow life's challenges to deny them hope and joy.
"Dear migrants and refugees, each one of you carries within yourself a story, a culture, of precious value; and often unfortunately experiences of misery, oppression and fear," the Pope said. "Your presence in this square, is a sign of hope in God."
As more and more people are being forced to flee their homes, the Pope described forced displacement and migration as a structural challenge we all must face. While refugees must change to adapt to their new societies, host communities too must change, but hopefully this change includes a spirit of welcome in order to promote integration and avoid discrimination.
Reflecting on his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees delivered last week and on the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis encouraged the audience on Sunday to show concrete mercy: that by welcoming the stranger we are simultaneously welcoming Christ.
In his message last week, the Holy Father said, "at the heart of the Gospel of mercy, the encounter and acceptance by others are intertwined with the encounter and acceptance of God himself. Welcoming others means welcoming God in person!"
On Sunday, the refugees and migrants crossed through the Vatican's Holy Door to celebrate mass in St Peter's Basilica. Walking through the door, the Pope said, will "fill your hearts with peace."
During the mass, the Cross of Lampedusa sat below the altar in memory the hundreds who drowned of the shores of Lampedusa in boat-capsizing incidents in 2013 and 2015. Nearly 3,500 people drowned in total in 2015 crossing the Mediterranean trying to reach safety in Europe.
In addition, on the island Lampedusa on Sunday afternoon, the Archbishop of Agrigento an President of the Migrantes Foundation, Cardinal Francesco Montenegro, opened the Holy Door of Mary's Sanctuary of Porto Salvo.
In his speech Cardinal Montenegro said, "the spirit of Lampedusa challenges everyone. The door to Europe which the island represents remained open even in the most difficult days and will always stay open, because this is a sacred place… Where there is suffering, a placed becomes sacred."
The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), with its mission to accompany – in addition to serve and advocate for –refugees, stands in solidarity with refugees, recognising those fleeing their homes and those who welcome them as part of one human family.
Fr Thomas H Smolich SJ, JRS International Director said, "whoever says, 'my family and I are here, and you all are refugees and migrants' is mistaken. The Holy Father says that we all are one family; we are all children of God."
Last Thursday, Centro Astalli (JRS Italy) commemorated the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in an event with speeches by Fr Adolfo Nicolás SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, and two refugees, Samer Afisa and Mary. The Father General thanked the refugees for opening our horizons and allowing us to better understand the world and the meaning of mercy through mutual encounter.
In her address to the audience, Mary spoke of the one human family. "I am a daughter of the world. I ask you to help me be no longer a victim, but a winner."