Pope Francis released the theme for the 105 World Day of Prayer of Migrants and Refugees to take place on September 29. The theme, “It Is Not Just About Migrants. It’s Also About Our Fears,” calls each of us to examine our attitude toward those who are different from us. As part of his statement, Pope Francis acknowledges that, “it is not easy to enter into someone else’s culture, to put on the shoes of people who are so different from us and understand their thoughts and experiences.”
Of course, he went on to say a lot more in his statement, but this phrase was the one that stuck with me. Reading it made me reflect on what it means to put on and walk in the shoes of another.
In looking up this idiom, I found that the full idiom is this: “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” We have all either heard of or used this expression many times throughout our lives when we have had difficulty understanding or empathizing with another in a situation. Basically, if we have not had the experience of lived through the situation, it is nearly impossible to completely appreciate what the other is going through.
Despite knowing that I couldn’t totally relate to those fleeing their homeland, I tried to imagine what it would be like to live everyday surrounded by the threat of violence. Or what it would would be like to not be able to provide my family with the necessities of life. Or to give my children an education that would help them to escape a life of poverty. Even though I tried to image it, the fact remains that I have never lived in an area surrounded by violence. I have always had my basic needs met and, really, been given more than I even needed. So, how is it that I can empathize with those who have had to deal with these hardships daily? I think the answer is my faith and my belief in Jesus.
It is through teachings of Jesus that I have learned what it means to “love one another as I have loved you” and that “whatever you do for the least of my brothers and sisters, you do unto me.” Jesus gave us an example of unconditional and total love. He reached out to the vulnerable and those living in poverty and called on his followers to do the same.
Through my call as a Daughter of Charity, I have tried to follow the ways of Jesus and the example of our founders, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Louise de Marillac, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. Their works and words have challenged me for the last 44 years as I have tried to live out the vocation I have been called to live, where I have been called to serve. But, it has not been easy to walk in the shoes of another day after day. I can be tiring and frustrating to meet the needs of the vulnerable and suffering. That is why it is so important to be fed by the Eucharist and the Word of God daily; to take time to reflect on what is means to be a follower of Jesus. It is only then that one can continue to out on the shoes of another and walk, step-by-step, on the journey to understanding and empathy.
Written by Sister Mary Catherine Warehime, D.C.