Dear Brothers and Sisters:
“Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate” (Lk 6:36).
Mercy, as the expression of love, is without a doubt at the center of the Christian life. Pope Francis, who wished to call for a Jubilee for the Church under the title of Mercy, reminds us the Jesus Christ is the face of the mercy of God, and because of this, the mystery of the Christian faith presents its synthesis in this Word itself (cf. Misericordiae vultus, 1).
The problems, which emerge in the Church and in the Order always arise, in the final analysis, from the abandonment of a cultivating of a personal and profound relationship with God, from not knowing God: the principal and almost single cause of my errors – Saint Augustine will say – was to hold on to a mistaken idea of God (cf. Conf. 5,10,19). Because of this we must not forget that God is love and that Christ is the face of that love with which God loves us, as we are reminded in a beautiful way by Pope Benedict XVI: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1 Jn 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. In the same verse, Saint John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus caritas est, 1). Probably one of our greatest challenges today as Christians is to take care of the truth and the quality of our love and, perhaps, to go back to the authenticity and to the power of our first love (cf. Apoc. 2, 4).
Love expresses itself in choices and in the realization of actions. Fidelity to Jesus, as I stressed in my first discourse as Prior General (cf. Acta Ordinis, 66 (2013), 191-196), leads us to focus our life on the principle of mercy, and, because of this, not to close ourselves in on ourselves, on our own security and on our own comfortableness, but rather to place ourselves where we encounter suffering, to stand in the trenches, together with the wounded. Our areas of work are many. So also our activities are many, but as religious and as an Order, if we are not built on compassion, all that we do will be without doubt irrelevant and not only will our apostolate be false but also our religious life and our Christian witness will not be credible.
We are witnessing the greatest exodus of refugees since the Second World War and it threatens to become a human catastrophe. It is a human drama of enormous proportions that cannot leave us indifferent. Although this affects Europe primarily, we all must respond to the outcry of those in need. It is a requirement of charity. Certainly, those oppressed by misery have been and always are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2448). Precisely our tradition as a mendicant Order, having arisen to be in the forefront of the Church and for service to humanity, prompts us to listen to this cry for help, to allow ourselves to be challenged by this and to respond in an effective and generous way. Our Augustinian charism did not develop from a flight from the world, but rather as an insertion into the world as the place of God’s love. The call of the needy Christ, who seeks hospitality (cf. Mt 25:31-46) is directed to every brother in the Order, to every sister of contemplative life, to every lay person who lives Augustinian spirituality, especially the members of Augustinian Spirituality groups, to each person and to all of us together. Augustinian communities should be known for being places where anyone can see a response that is freer, bolder, prompter, more intense, and more creative in the face of the need for mercy and for compassion. “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.”
a. The conversion of the heart
“I will take from your body the heart of stone and I will give you a heart of flesh” (Ez 36:26)
The first step is to seek the interior transformation that permits us “to hear” humanity in need, the poor and the excluded. A society of comfort can lead to not only the danger of a growing secularization in our way of life, but also to the increase of self-centeredness, the fear of losing security for those who have lost the security of Christ and who, therefore, are viscerally opposed to any kind of risk. By no means, can xenophobic commentaries be acceptable, nor the comments that trivialize the tragedy of thousands and thousands of people who, fleeing from war and persecution, knock at the doors of Europe seeking the opportunity and the possibility of a better world, seeking hope.
All these refugees, coming from wherever they come from, are the family of Jesus and yet it seems that there is no room at the inn for them (cf. Lk 2,7). They ask for a response from us. This response, which we must give both individually and as an institution, must not be blocked by fear, by selfishness, or by political interests. Not to respond is to be an accomplice; to avoid responsibility is to contribute to the evil. When these tragedies are minimized, or when someone says that it is the responsibility for governments alone, is not the sadness of one’s own emptiness being shown, and ultimately, is not the falsehood of living one’s vocation being demonstrated?
May the Lord grant us a compassionate heart so that we can see the needy person as a subject and not as an object, as a person and not as a number, as a living reality and not as fiction. Certainly, “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts” (Gaudium et spes, 1).
b. Some considerations
“Come you, blessed of my Father…because I was a stranger and you took me in (Mt 25: 34-35).
Pope Francis has presented us with a very specific request: “Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees who flee death from war and hunger, and who have begun a journey moved by hope for survival, the Gospel calls us to be ‘neighbors’ of the smallest and the abandoned, and to give them concrete hope. It’s not enough to say, ‘Take heart. Be patient’.... Christian hope has a fighting spirit, with the tenacity of one who goes toward a sure goal. Therefore, as the Jubilee of Mercy approaches, I make an appeal to parishes, religious communities, monasteries and shrines throughout Europe, that they express the Gospel in a concrete way and host a refugee family. A concrete gesture in preparation for the Holy Year of Mercy. May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every shrine of Europe welcome one family, beginning with my Diocese of Rome” (Allocution during the Angelus, 6 September 2015).
With this in mind, I appeal to all the brothers and sisters of the Order, especially those who live in Europe:
* I ask each major superior of the circumscriptions of Europe, in conjunction with their councils, to study, with a sense of urgency, the ways to respond to this call of the Pope.
* The major superior, in dialogue with local priors, Augustinian pastors and with those responsible in the Order’s Secretariat of Justice and Peace, to concretize the way in which each community or parish can host and care for at least one family of refugees. That is: to find accommodations (in their structures or in other places) and to care for their material and spiritual needs: housing, food, education, clothing, work, health assistance, legal questions, etc. For those communities with fewer resources, they can collaborate with others.
* This theme is to be discussed in the local chapters of the religious communities and in parish councils.
* To seek a greater effectiveness and coordination by collaborating with diocesan and inter-congregational structures.
* For circumscriptions outside of Europe: we all know of similar situations, which exist in many parts of the world, where the reality of displaced persons and of refugees is also alarming. However, here it is necessary to consider the best way to help and to collaborate.
* For circumscriptions or communities who wish to collaborate with economic aid, a special fund will be established in the General Curia to channel these contributions.
* I ask the major superiors of the Order to inform me concerning what has been determined in their circumscriptions with regard to the assistance of refugees. This information should be sent to the Secretary General of the Order.
* I convoke a day in the whole Order to pray for refugees, for persecuted Christians and for the victims of war. This will take place on 16 November 2015, the International Day for Tolerance, and in a way that includes the laity. The Institute of Augustinian Spirituality will send out instructions and materials.
I wish to express my deepest gratitude for whatever can be done to mobilize resources for those who need our help most urgently, knowing that opening ourselves to the boldness of the Gospel will benefit us also; helping others helps each one of us as well as the Order, as in the words of Saint John Paul II, “Man attains to the merciful love of God, His mercy, to the extent that he himself is interiorly transformed in the spirit of that love towards his neighbor” (Dives in misericordia, 14).
May Mary, Mother of Consolation, protect us and accompany us.
Given in Rome, 16 September 2015
Fr. Alejandro Moral Antón
Prior General, OSA