Philippi was the first European city to be evangelised when Paul visited the city around 49AD. Located on the eastern edge of Europe, in current-day Macedonia, Philippi was a trading city that received various waves of migration as political fortunes in the Roman Empire shifted.
When Paul was writing to the Philippians, 20 to 30 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, he was writing to people who had settled from a variety of other locations. It was to these Christians of immigrant backgrounds that Paul would say, ‘our true homeland is in heaven.’
Lazarus, that broken-down man who begged outside the gates of the rich man, would know of this truth when he eventually came to eternal life in the bosom of Abraham. In this parable, Jesus wanted to draw attention to Lazarus, who had known what it was like to be rejected and excluded from among the people where he lived. Before he was comforted, Lazarus experienced what so many among us still experience today, the difficulties of living at the peripheries. Yet Lazarus looked with hope towards his future in God, finding comfort where it could properly be located.
Pope Francis noted this way of God for us, all pilgrims on the journey to our eternal destiny. He wrote for this year’s 108th World Day of Migrants and Refugees:
No one must be excluded. God’s plan is essentially inclusive and gives priority to those living on the existential peripheries… The Kingdom of God is built with them, for without them it would not be the Kingdom that God wants. The inclusion of those most vulnerable is the necessary condition for full citizenship in God’s Kingdom.
Each of us, but most notably you who are present for this annual Mass, know of the realities that make up a society such as ours, build in more recent decades on rolling waves of migration and asylum seeking. There has been hope and dreams in this reality, but also pain and heartache. For everyone, there has been the struggle of finding a new way in a new place, and learning to build a culture of love, justice and dignity. But we Christians, who look towards a distant horizon, we know that Christ has gone before us to prepare our place. And our hope is sure.
Mary MacKillop, our local saint from Fitzroy, was herself a second-generation immigrant. Her parents had come from Scotland to find a fresh start in this strange and wild land. She knew of the hopes and challenges of finding a home in her local surrounds, while drawing from both the light and the shadows of the history, culture and ways of another world. It was Mary who said, a bit like St Paul to the Philippians, ‘we are but travellers here.’
On this annual celebration of Migrant and Refugee Sunday, may we recognise and rejoice that we share in the pathways trodden by St Paul, Lazarus, and St Mary of the Cross. Yes, we look to find a place, a home, where we are located, but we know that we remain on a pilgrim journey nonetheless. We are citizens of God’s Kingdom, called to bring this Kingdom into the circumstances of our locations, our neighbourhoods, our places and our lives.