Pope taps inner Tom Petty on forced migration, a 'sign of the times'

Pope Francis during his June 7 2017 Wendesday general audience in St Peters Square Credit Daniel Ibez CNA Pope Francis during his June 7, 2017, Wendesday general audience in St. Peter's Square. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

Echoing strains of the 1979 hit "Refugee" by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Pope Francis on Saturday told representatives from Catholic universities that just because people are often forced into becoming migrants and refugees, they don't have to live like it – at least, not where education is concerned.

Among other things, he said the phenomenon of forced migrations is a "sign of the times," and urged Catholic universities to find more opportunities for migrants and refugees to study, even if it means creating distance programs for people living in camps or welcome centers.

He also encouraged universities to conduct in-depth studies on both the causes of forced migration, as well as the "discriminatory" and "xenophobic" attitudes that traditionally Christian countries can at times have toward incoming migrants.

Catholic universities, he said Nov. 4, have the task of carrying out "a scientific, theological and pedagogical reflection" of the topic which is rooted in Catholic social teaching, and which looks to "overcome the prejudices and fears linked to a lack of knowledge about the migratory phenomenon."

He spoke at the close of a conference organized by Catholic universities around the world, titled "Migrants and Refugees in a Globalized World: the Response of Universities."

Happening in Rome Nov. 1-4, the conference was put on by the International Federation of Catholic Universities (IFCU) in partnership with the Being the Blessing Foundation, the Pontifical Gregorian University, and the Center for Interreligious Understanding.

In his speech to participants, the Pope said the work of Catholic universities is to "harmonize" scientific research with theology, and to promote true "dialogue" between faith and reason.

And this happens primarily through three fundamental aspects, which according to Francis are research, teaching and social activity.

He encouraged the academics to launch deeper studies on the "remote causes" of forced migration with the aim of finding practical solutions, even if those solutions are long-term, so that from the start people are ensured of the basic right "of not being forced to migrate."

"It's also important to reflect on the negative, and at times discriminatory and xenophobic reactions, that the welcome of migrants is having in countries of ancient Christian tradition," so that a real and true formation in conscience can be achieved.

To this end, the Pope said the contribution migrants offer their host countries is "worthy of greater appreciation."

Francis also urged participants to delve into a solid theological reflection "on migrations as a sign of the times," saying the stories that migrants and refugees bring with them are "a challenge to the faith and love of believers," who themselves are called on "to heal the evils that derive from migrations" and to discover how God works through them, even if they were caused "by obvious injustices."

When it comes to teaching opportunities for migrants, Francis said Catholic universities ought to provide those living in refugee camps or migrant welcome centers the opportunity to pursue higher education, whether that is through the development of courses and distance-learning programs, or scholarships that allow for relocation.

The "dense international academic network" must also be taken advantage of, he said, allowing for the recognition of the professional qualifications that migrants and refugees already have both for their own benefit, and that of the societies who welcome them.

Students must also be educated in "a careful reading of the migratory phenomenon, in a perspective of justice, global co-responsibility and of communion in cultural diversity," Pope Francis said, noting that many of these students will go on to become political leaders, entrepreneurs and "artisans of culture."

In terms of acting in society, he said the university is often viewed as an entity that "takes charge of the society in which it operates, exercising, first and foremost, a role of critical consciousness in respect to the different forms of political, economic and cultural power."

He then pointed to 20 "action points" proposed by the Migrants and Refugees section of the Vatican dicastery for Integral Human Development regarding the U.N. Global Compacts of migrants and refugees for 2018, saying these can help Catholic universities become "privileged actors" in society.

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Part of this social action, he said, might include something like creating incentives for student volunteering programs that assist refugees, those who have requested asylum and migrants that have freshly arrived in their new country.

Francis closed his speech by telling the academics that their work is linked to the "four cornerstones" of the Church's attitude toward reality of contemporary migrations, which are "to welcome, protect, promote and integrate."

Pointing to the day's feast of St. Charles Borromeo, the Pope said the saint was "an enlightened and passionate pastor, who made humility his motto," and prayed that his "exemplary life" would inspire the "intellectual and social activity, and also the experience of brotherhood" in the IFCU.

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