Happy New Year! That greeting resounds among friends, acquaintances, coworkers and even strangers. It lasts for more than just the day, and continues through much of the month of January as a wish for health, happiness and good fortune through the coming year.
In our Catholic tradition, the current pope issues a greeting of peace for the new year, celebrating the World Day of Peace on Jan. 1. This year, Pope Francis' message is entitled "Migrants and Refugees: Men and Women in Search of Peace." (Note: you can read his entire message by going to www.vatican.va)
Calling our attention to the plight of migrants and refugees is in keeping with the theme of the campaign that the pope launched last September, entitled "Share the Journey" (www.sharejourney.org). In his World Day of Peace message, Pope Francis reminds us that it is not enough to just "open our hearts," but we must have "concrete actions" as well for these men and women who have made a "journey that is long and perilous."
In defining these concrete actions, he lists "four mileposts," and calls them "four verbs" that he hopes the entire international community will adopt. These four verbs give us some guidance, not only in our approach to migrants and refugees, but in many other areas as well. Think of how these actions will help us understand how to welcome new parishioners, new neighbors or new coworkers.
Here are the four mileposts that Pope Francis has laid out:
Welcoming - for migrants and refugees, this includes "expanding the pathways of legal entry" and balancing the concerns of security with the concerns for "fundamental human rights." In more local settings, we need to smooth the way for newcomers to join us in our neighborhoods and parishes, making it easy for them to approach us and find welcome.
Protecting - "our duty to recognize and defend the inviolable dignity of those who flee real dangers in search of asylum and security." Certainly, those who leave their home countries are often exposed to risks of abuse and exploitation and need our protection. Likewise, new members of our parishes can feel very vulnerable in their new surroundings, and need to feel protected and secure.
Promoting - "entails supporting the integral human development of migrants and refugees." Welcoming men and women who have fled their homeland is a beginning, but we also need to ensure that they have opportunities to realize their potential, recognizing the gifts they bring with them.
Integrating - means "allowing refugees and migrants to participate fully in the life of the society that welcomes them, as part of a process of mutual enrichment and fruitful cooperation in service of the integral human development of the local community." Imagine encouraging newcomers to join in committees and groups, clubs and teams, fully integrating them into the life of the parish.
Welcome and hospitality have long been values of Christian disciples. Maybe in this new year, we will find ways to live the "four verbs" of Pope Francis and foster peace among people.