Francis Xavier was one. Alessandro Valignano was another. Less well known than Xavier he was a star organiser of the Jesuit missions in Japan and China. He left a description of life on board those ships that beggars belief.
The ship was so packed people had to stand on deck in the searing heat by day – they could be becalmed (at a standstill) on the ocean for 50 days – and sleep in the open during the cold at night. The food was scarce and tasteless, the water foul. There was no way to wash so there was the stench of clothes and bodies. Disease was rife and often half the passengers died. Valignano remarks in conclusion; “it is extraordinary that so many Portuguese seek to come to India each year … but they do.”
The migrants who try to cross the Mediterranean today are driven by the same desire for a better life. In fact migration is as old as history. The difference today is, not that we are packed into a fragile boat but, that we are packed onto a fragile planet. We are running out of room, or such is the perception. We do not yet know what Pope Francis will say in his forthcoming letter on the environment but population pressure is certainly an issue.
When we read the gospels and ponder Jesus’ command, “love one another as I have loved you” we are forced to ask how this fits with our reluctance, as the human family, to make room for one another. The planet obviously has a limited capacity to sustain human life. Animal life, as we know, has its own physical way of limiting numbers. But humans have to use intelligent ways that accord with human dignity. How this can be done is a question Europe’s governments are facing up to and they need all the help they can get. It is more than likely they will pay attention to what Francis has to say.
One of the pope’s sayings is; “God always forgives, men and women sometimes forgive; nature never forgives.” We have not yet reached the point where we are faced with nature’s harsh judgement. There is still plenty of scope for us to open our hearts and our doors to others. We are not the first generation to be faced with stark choices. The scriptures sometime give us examples of huge leaps in imagination that people make. When Peter admitted gentiles to baptism it may sound like a small thing to us. But for him and his companions it was a highly contested decision. It signalled a complete break with their Jewish roots.
So as the migrants continue to try to reach Europe despite the dangers, we are called to pause and examine how we welcome people different from us into our space.Post published in: Faith