Pope Francis appears his weekly general audience in St. Peter`s Square, Vatican City, on Wednesday. Photo by Maurizio Brambatti/EPA
Sept. 27 (UPI) -- Pope Francis on Wednesday debuted a two-year Catholic-backed campaign to welcome migrants "with arms wide open."
The pontiff, speaking to a crowd in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican for the weekly General Audience, launched "Share the Journey" -- an initiative by Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 165 Catholic support organizations operating worldwide.
The initiative is a two-year campaign to "promote encounters" between migrants and residents who might be able to offer them assistance.
The pope said Christians helping people flee war or poverty should be "a bit like the colonnade of St. Peter's Square, which represents the mother church who embraces all in sharing a common journey."
"Brothers, don't be afraid of sharing the journey. Don't be afraid of sharing hope," he added.
Other Catholic leaders voiced similar sentiments on Wednesday.
"There are now more people displaced from their homes than at any time since World War II -- some 65 million in all," three clergy members wrote in an op-ed in The Hill. "Some have stayed as near to their homes as they can. Millions have gone further afield, becoming refugees as they cross international borders in search of the basics of life for their families: shelter, food, water, medical care, sanitation, safety."
The op-ed was written by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; Bishop Gregory J. Mansour, chairman of the board of Catholic Relief Services; and Sister Donna Markham, president of Catholic Charities USA.
"Most of them are just like the Texans and Floridians we saw on television: One day they were living their lives, going to work, going to school, caring for their kids, fixing meals, enjoying each other's company. The next day, they found calamity.
"Each and every one of us can do our own part -- and also ensure that our government meets its obligation to protect those who suffer, wherever they are in our world. ... it is imperative that we show the international community moral leadership on this issue."