In a sense, every papal liturgy in St. Peter’s Basilica has symbolic value, but rarely was that symbolism more overtly on display than on Sunday, when Pope Francis led a Mass for the Catholic Church’s Jan. 14 World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

Obviously intended to drive home the message that migrants are refugees and not just abstractions for Catholicism, but part of its family of faith, there were representatives of 49 nations on hand in the basilica, including 2,000 immigrants and refugees from the Philippines, more than 1,200 Ukrainians, 800 Romanians, 650 Indians, as well as groups from Lebanon, Syria, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Capo Verde, and China.

Speaking directly to those groups, Francis said on Sunday, “This year, I wanted to celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees with a Mass that invites and welcomes you especially who are migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.”

In his homily, Francis acknowledged that today’s rising numbers of immigrants and refugees often generate fear in host societies, saying those anxieties are “fully comprehensible from a human point of view.”

“Having doubts and fears is not a sin,” Francis said.

“The sin is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection,” he said.

“The sin is to refuse to encounter the other, the different, the neighbor, when this is in fact a privileged opportunity to encounter the Lord,” he said.

The important thing, Francis said, is “to overcome our fears so as to encounter the other, to welcome, to know and to acknowledge him or her.”

Francis began by laying out a challenge to both immigrants and the host societies receiving them.

The pontiff called on new arrivals “to know and respect the laws, the culture and the traditions of the countries that take them in,” and, he said, it’s also important to “understand their fears and apprehensions for the future.”

For host societies, Francis urged them “to open themselves without prejudice to their rich diversity [of migrants and refugees], to understand the hopes and potential of the newly arrived as well as their fears and vulnerabilities.”

Full story at Crux.