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Pope affirms rights of refugees and challenges Church to respond

.- Pope Benedict XVI asked Sunday that the rights of refugees “always be respected” and encouraged church communities “to respond to their needs.”

The Pope made these remarks after praying the Angelus on Sunday. His comments were in anticipation of World Refugee Day, an initiative promoted by the United Nations, which is being marked around the world today, June 20.

World Refugee Day, said the Holy Father, "seeks to draw the attention of the international community to the plight of so many people who are forced, because of grave forms of violence, to flee their own lands."
 
"These, our brothers and sisters, seek refuge in other countries, animated by the hope of returning to their own homeland or, at least, of finding hospitality in the places where they have sought shelter," he continued.

Millions are expected to mark World Refugee Day this year.

"All of us can do our part to give hope to the uprooted," the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, said Monday, adding: "World Refugee Day is part of that common effort as we gather on June 20 in cities and towns, in refugee camps and in remote settlements to pay tribute to the courageous, unwavering hope of the world's refugees - and to assure them that they are not forgotten.”

In Geneva, Switzerland, home of UNHCR, the city's iconic 140-metre-high fountain as well as other public buildings around the country will be bathed in blue - the color of the United Nations - and World Refugee Day banners will line the Mont Blanc Bridge. Australia will do likewise in Canberra, illuminating the old parliament building and other landmarks.

In Ecuador, refugees will paint a mural on a wall in the city of Ibarra. It will become a permanent mark of the city's solidarity with refugees. The UNHCR office in Lago Agrio, near the border with Colombia, will organize a cultural and trade fair where refugees and Ecuadoreans will play sports and enjoy traditional music and food.

A major celebration is planned at the National Geographic Grosvenor Auditorium in Washington, where a senior US State Department official is slated to give a speech to increase awareness of refugee issues and a young refugee will talk about her experiences and the hope theme.

There are about 20.8 million displaced people in the world, including some 8.4 million refugees. More than 5 million refugees have been in exile for five years or longer.

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