Pope Francis says plight of displaced people is an ‘unseen tragedy’ amid pandemic

The World Day of Migrants and Refugees will be observed Sept. 27, 2020. Credit: @JesuitRefugee

The coronavirus crisis is an opportunity to reflect more on how we can help the most vulnerable around us, including the internally displaced, whose situation has been worsened by the pandemic, Pope Francis said Friday.

The situation of internally displaced persons is an “often unseen tragedy that the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated,” he said in a message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees published May 15.

“In fact,” he continued, “due to its virulence, severity and geographical extent, this crisis has impacted many other humanitarian emergencies that affect millions of people, which has relegated to the bottom of national political agendas those urgent international efforts essential to saving lives.”

Internally displaced persons, or IDPs, are defined as those who have had to flee their home or residence due to violence, conflict, disaster, or development projects to find refuge in another part of the country.

According to data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), at the end of 2019, 45.7 million people were living internally displaced from their homes worldwide for reasons of conflict. Including other causes of displacement, the number of IDPs is more than 50 million.

In a press conference May 15, the Vatican’s head of the Migrants and Refugees Section, Cardinal Michael Czerny, said these numbers do not take into account the effect COVID-19 may have on IDPs, which it will be interesting to note next year.

Internally displaced people, he said, are “citizens in theory,” yet their existence and needs are often overlooked.

In his message ahead of the 2020 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which will be marked Sept. 27, the pope called the tragedy of IDPs “one of the challenges of our contemporary world.”

Quoting his message for the Easter Urbi et Orbi April 12, Francis said “this is not a time for forgetfulness. The crisis we are facing should not make us forget the many other crises that bring suffering to so many people.”

“In the light of the tragic events that have marked 2020, I would like this Message, although concerned with internally displaced persons, to embrace all those who are experiencing situations of precariousness, abandonment, marginalization and rejection as a result of COVID-19,” he stated.

Pope Francis also reflected on the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, during which “the child Jesus experienced with his parents the tragic fate of the displaced and refugees.”

He noted that even now, “millions of families can identify with this sad reality.”

Just as in the faces of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the stranger, and the prisoner, “displaced people offer us this opportunity to meet the Lord,” he said.

Pope Francis added that he would like to encourage a pastoral response which emphasizes listening, understanding, serving, growing, and cooperating.

“Building the Kingdom of God is a duty common to all Christians, and for this reason it is necessary that we learn to cooperate, without yielding to the temptation to jealousy, discord and division,” he said.

He also emphasized that “when we talk about migrants and displaced persons, all too often we stop at statistics. But it is not about statistics, it is about real people!”

“If we encounter them, we will get to know more about them,” the pope continued. “We will be able to understand, for example, that the precariousness that we have come to experience as a result of this pandemic is a constant in the lives of displaced people.”

He called the streets’ newfound silence because of the pandemic, an opportunity “to listen to the plea of the vulnerable, the displaced and our seriously ill planet.”

Pope Francis concluded his message with a prayer he said is inspired by the example of St. Joseph when he was forced to flee to Egypt to save the child Jesus:

Father, you entrusted to Saint Joseph what you held most precious: the child Jesus and his Mother, in order to protect them from the dangers and threats of the wicked.

Grant that we may experience his protection and help. May he, who shared in the sufferings of those who flee from the hatred of the powerful, console and protect all our brothers and sisters driven by war, poverty and necessity to leave their homes and their lands to set out as refugees for safer places.

Help them, through the intercession of Saint Joseph, to find the strength to persevere, give them comfort in sorrows and courage amid their trials.

Grant to those who welcome them some of the tender love of this just and wise father, who loved Jesus as a true son and sustained Mary at every step of the way.

May he, who earned his bread by the work of his hands, watch over those who have seen everything in life taken away and obtain for them the dignity of a job and the serenity of a home.

We ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son, whom Saint Joseph saved by fleeing to Egypt, and trusting in the intercession of the Virgin Mary, whom he loved as a faithful husband in accordance with your will. Amen.