Share the Journey: Pope Francis and Migration

Today, Pope Francis set forth the first message in the two year long “Share the Journey” campaign. At the heart of the campaign’s vision is the idea of a united, global family. People, all around the world, are on the migratory move and need to be welcomed and transitioned into new communities with love. These people, migrants they may be, are a people of hope.

At the Vatican’s daily audience Pope Francis said,

Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our continuing catechesis on Christian hope, I would now like to reflect on the importance of combatting all that threatens our hope. As the ancient story of Pandora’s box teaches us, hope remains as the treasure enabling mankind to face with trust in God’s providence every evil let loose in this world. In our own day, hope motivates so many of our brothers and sisters forced to leave their homes in search of a better life, but also those who welcome them, “sharing the journey” with them and trusting in a better tomorrow. Hope is especially the virtue of the poor. As the mystery of Christmas teaches us, God came into this world among the poor, to bring the good news of our salvation. Hope is also the virtue of the young, who deserve not to be robbed of it by an often soulless and materialist society. Hope’s greatest enemy is spiritual emptiness, the “noon-day devil” that tempts us to stop fighting and to yield to discouragement. Let us ask the Lord for the grace to hope more firmly in his promises, confident that his victory over the world will fill our hearts with joy as we face the future and all that it has in store for us.

The people of hope are people looking for a better life. They want what you and I want — a stable home, food, family, a community who trusts and respects them, and security after what is likely a chaotic, tumultuous past.

At the beginning of the three Abrahamic traditions, there is a migration story — it is part of each tradition’s original narrative. The exodus from slavery in Egypt, the flight of Mary and Joseph escaping the slaughter of the innocents, and the Hegira of the Prophet Mohammad from Mecca to Medina. It is in this very basic way that migration and the migrant are central to all our traditions and why we must be more empathetic and welcoming to them — very concretely, we must share the journey.

Pope Francis’ statement can seem rather simple. Hope is a constitutive part of Christian virtue: Jesus as the Son of God incarnated amongst the poor and brought first to them the good news of salvation; hope enables humans to face evil with a sense of something beyond, which compels them to see goodness; and indeed that materialism robs people of human dignity, prioritizing what he called in Laudato Si, a Technocracy — mirroring the famous dystopian analysis of Jacques Ellul. This is of course very obvious to many and follows the script of Pope Francis.

But what is the noon-day devil?

Of this, Evagrius of Pontus says,

The demon of akedia— also called the noonday demon–is the one that causes the most trouble of all. He presses his attack upon the monk about the fourth hour and besieges the soul until the eighth hour. First of all, he makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and that the day is fifty hours long. Then he constrains the monk to look constantly out the windows, to walk outside of the cell, to gaze carefully at the sun to determine how far it stands from the ninth hour, to look now this way, that way to see if one of the brothers might….Then too he instills in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself, a hatred for manual labor. He leads him to reflect that charity has departed from among the brethren, that there is no one to give him encouragement. Should there be someone at this period who happens to offend him in some way or other, this too the demon uses to contribute further to his hatred. This demon drives him along to desire other sites where he can more easily procure life’s necessities, more readily find work and make a real success of himself. He goes on to suggest that, after all, it is not the place that is the basis of pleasing the Lord. God is to be adored everywhere. He joins to these reflections the memory of his dear ones and of his former way of life. He depicts life stretching out for a long period of time, and brings before the mind’s eye the toil of ascetic struggle and, as the saying has it, leaves no leaf unturned to induce the monk to forsake his cell and drop out of the fight. No other demon follows close upon the hells of this one but only a state of deep peace and inexpressible joy arise of this struggle.

For a fourth century monastic, akedia was the worst demon of all. It was the demon which inspired the foundation for all others — listlessness and spiritual apathy. Or, expressed more clearly in modern language: boredom.

This may seem a strange choice for Pope Francis to articulate as the “greatest enemy,” of Hope-itself. But what is important to understand is that in the ancient Church, spiritual emptiness was a sense of hopelessness. It was a sense that nothing mattered. And this, in the thought of Evagrius, was foundational in the temptation of the monk.

Today of course Pope Francis is not addressing monks. Nor is he talking about a fourth century context. Nor, really, is he talking about demons at all.

For the Christian of that era, a demon was not exactly as we see it today — it was a temptation. For city dwellers this came in the form of people, things, and events; for the monk it was typically understood as being strongest in the mind — generally as a thought.

What I believe Francis is suggesting is that this great demon, the noonday demon of spiritual emptiness, is our own apathetic withdrawal from the great concerns of those oppressed. In this case, the people of hope: the migrant with whom we must share in their journey.

When I suggested the most proper correlation to akedia is “boredom,” I meant the sort of thinking that arises when someone simply does not care, or is intellectually vacant (and I do not mean ignorant). Someone distracted by the irrelevant and fleeting, or someone who simply cares not is one who is effectively bored.

Francis, in this daily audience, is speaking not only on behalf of those who are on the journey — the people of hope — but also to those who are complacent and those who are bored — enemies of hope.

Ask yourself truly and honestly, how often do you spend your time idling and wasted? Perhaps watching television or browsing the internet? For me it is very often. I do it daily and, if I am being honest, it is not fulfilling.

As Evagrius says, sometimes the days will appear to last fifty hours because nothing has happened. It is dull, it makes me lazy, and I feel bored.

Pope Francis is calling us all to wake up. We need to awaken to the foundational fact that we are one global human family. And then, we need to awaken to the fact that many of our brothers and sisters are on the move.

This is not to say that we, those bored and comfortable, must house them all and give them everything we have to the point we have nothing ourselves. It is instead to say we need to awaken to the idea that they are on a journey, and we must share that journey with them.

They are a people of hope. Aren’t you one too?