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“I am here to see your faces and look into your eyes.”

Patricia McCarthy, CND

On the Second Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis visited the Island of Lesbos in Greece, a place of large numbers of refugees fleeing wars and persecution in their native lands, primarily western Africa and the mid-East. He went among the refugees in their camp, touching the children, blessing them and listening to them. Then he went to a tent right in the midst of the settlement. With an audience of about 100 people, many of them residents of the camp, he spoke briefly and warmly to those assembled.

Before Pope Francis said a word, he gave his message of courage and compassion flowing into commitment by his presence in the camp. Right on the shore of the Mediterranean, which has been a grave for many refugees who didn’t make it to shore, he spoke of the Messiah who came as a poor person and, as a child, lived the life of a refugee.

There was little fanfare. A microphone, a chair, a choir of refugee singers with no musical accompaniment were the backdrop to his usual brief speech. The President of Greece spoke but so did a refugee from the Congo. Rather than elaborate gifts presented to Pope Francis, two young girls gave him a notebook of their writings and drawings.

The camp was visible from the tent – new buildings with basic shelter provided. The port-a-johns were lined up next to them. His message was as simple as the surroundings. Five years ago, when he visited Lesbos for the first time, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said to the refugees, “Those who are afraid of you have not looked at you in the eyes. Those who are afraid of you do not see your children. They forget that dignity and freedom transcend fear and division.” This time Pope Francis said, “I am here to see your faces and look into your eyes.”

He continued, “If we wish to begin anew, we must look at the faces of the children.” He quoted Pope Benedict who spoke about a Christian as one “with a heart that sees.” Whether Creches are on public property, in churches, on our front lawns, in our homes or in Catholic schools, Jesus is always in the center. Our eyes are drawn to the baby in the manger. Who is this child, this God among us? What does his presence on this frail fragile earth say to us? What does it mean?

If it is only a presentation of our version of the actual birth of Jesus, we are missing the whole mystery of the Incarnation. Third graders, being interviewed by 8th graders, spoke of Christmas being about Jesus not just presents. They said Christmas meant they had to be kind to others, especially the poor. With their child-like simplicity, they are teaching all of us about seeing others with the eyes of Jesus. And they are telling us that it is the meaning of Christmas.

If we look at the manger scenes with the 3rd graders’ wisdom, we will develop eyes that see, eyes that dare to look at the stranger, and let the Spirit replace our fear with compassion. Let the Spirit of Jesus “overcome the paralysis of fear in us, the indifference that kills.”

“Take courage, do not think that to love is a waste of time! Tonight love has conquered fear, new hope has arrived, God’s kindly light has overcome the darkness of human ignorance. God loves you.” (Pope Francis’ Homily of Dec. 24, 2019)

Article first published by the Rhode Island Catholic


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