Migration, an ancient and always current problem – deBrésillac

Bishop deBrésillac

Bishop deBrésillac

On 8 December, we celebrate the 160th anniversary of the offering that Bishop de Marion Brésillac, with his first companions, made of the nascent Society to our Lady of Fourvière at Lyon, France.

Every year the Postulator for the Cause of the Canonisation of the SMA Founder has published an article highlighting some feature of the life or writings of Bishop deBrésillac. We present an edited translation of the article which Fr Andrea Mandonico SMA wrote for this anniversary.

It was translated by the SMA Secretary General, Fr Sylvere Atta SMA.

Migration, an ancient and always current problem as seen by Bishop deBrésillac

“Get up, take the little child and his mother, flee to Egypt and stay there till I speak to you, for Herod will seek out the little child to put him to death.” (Mt 2:13)

Examining this passage from St Matthew’s Gospel concerning the childhood of Jesus teaches us of the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt as a time of exile. The infant Jesus, with his parents, experienced migration with its constraints and sorrows. Can we see in the current mass migratory movement, a messianic opportunity, a prophetic sign? For us missionaries, sons and daughters of deBrésillac and of Planque, at the service of the destitute and the powerless, what interpretation inspired by our founder do we make of migration?

It would be wrong to say that our founder, Bishop deBrésillac, who lived from 1813 to 1859 [only 46 years], was confronted with the problem of migration as we see it today. We can persuade ourselves that if he had witnessed this phenomenon which remains a wound for humanity and which is intolerable for the human conscience, it would arouse the indignation and a proportional reaction of the bishop of the missions. Besides, he was himself a French priest on mission in India, and therefore an expatriate, who had already, in his day, acquainted himself with the reality of the integration that is required of those «living elsewhere than at home.»

The history of his life tells us that he spent a good part of his time in India, first as a priest in a parish, then as the Rector of the seminary and finally as a bishop. Throughout this period he fought injustice in its various forms, censured everything that lessens the dignity of man as a child of God and then restores justice. Bishop deBrésillac has always been affected by human sufferings, whether physical, moral or spiritual. For him, everything that is degrading, no matter what the cost, does not deserve to be encouraged but fought against with the force of prayer and persuasion.

It is in this missionary impulse deeply marked by the ‘Marionist’ spirituality, the spirituality of promptness and pragmatism that the SMA General House in Rome has hosted two African migrants since last year. This number was increased last October with the arrival of two others following the solemn appeal of Pope Francis for migrants.

Indeed, in an appeal addressed to the world community, Pope Francis, on the question of migration, not only recommended a new look but also, as a sign of solidarity with the suffering humanity, invited the Western world to welcome migrants into their homes and families. In this call, he insisted “on the importance of a direct face to face encounter with them to tame the fear felt by many towards them.” He explains that “in theory, one cannot close one’s heart to a refugee”.

nocetta-wwwOur SMA community on Via della Nocetta, Rome [pictured] listened to this call and joined in solidarity and has received and made welcome the ‘brother from elsewhere’. Accepting the other in its racial, cultural and religious differences… is at the same time a necessity but also a challenge that must nevertheless be faced. The reasons for the migratory phenomenon as old as the world are multiple: the quest for well-being, the escape from places of armed conflict, economic distress, or just “an ambiguous adventure” in the pursuit of a dream to name but a few. Today it has reached unimaginable and uncontrolled proportions. Confronted with this phenomenon, the host countries show their unease at the enormity of the situation. This, rightly or wrongly confirms their refusal to receive “all the misery of the world”. However, calls are made to excite the philanthropic string in order to act. Our world is at the crossroads of history where on the one hand there is a third world that lies in abysmal situations of poverty and despair and on the other a society that offers the mirage / illusion of a “paradise-like” existence.

It is true that the fear of the other, of the foreigner, weakens the goodwill and even plagues the religious revival. However, there is urgency and we must act now. It is a tragedy and it cannot and must not endure! Some propose to address the problem at its root. But how to solve this thorny problem without rethinking the whole nature of humanity? To consider circumscribing this phenomenon without returning to the creator’s project would be a vain adventure

What to do?

On this subject deBrésillac tells us in a pragmatic voice that he “does not hold to such or such a means in particular, provided that we take those which are not illusory.” (Letter to M. Jean Tesson, Director at the Seminary of Paris, Coimbatore, November 1, 1853, LE, 0620). Does not mankind in any place have a duty to welcome? In Matthew 25: 34-36, Christ makes the transcendence of oneself towards and for the other the sine qua non condition of access to eternal life. Bishop deBrésillac adopted these words of Christ, of welcoming the other as a priority to the point of meeting him and accepting martyrdom for the salvation of souls.

The occasion is fortuitous on this 160th anniversary of the existence of the work to congratulate, in addition to countries and NGOs, all the religious institutions and consequently the SMA branches and other groups that stand alongside migrants.

“Happy are you migrants, dead on the way, the kingdom of heaven will be opened to you, and there you will find a land of welcome, where there are neither Jews nor Greeks, Turks, Syrians, Africans or men Free, neither slaves, rich, nor poor, but the merciful arms of God to comfort you”.

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