On Migration and Modern Values, Francis Offers Sharp Challenge to Western Comforts
VATICAN CITY — Just a week ahead of the papal visit, Pope Francis has said he will not point the finger at anyone when it comes to the issue of migration across the US-Mexican border.
In an extensive, wide ranging interview with the Portuguese Radio station Renascença (Renaissance), the Pope also discussed the need for Europe to recover its faith and Christian roots; his popularity in light of Jesus’ warning that his followers would be hated by the world; and the devastating impact of low birth rates in Europe.
The Holy Father also touched on a possible 2017 visit to Fatima for the centenary of the approved Marian apparitions.
Migrants, Refugees and the Threat of ISIS
Signaling what he might say when he visits the United States next week, the Pope said he didn’t want to point his finger at anyone in particular when asked about migration along the Mexico-U.S. border. “When there is an empty space, people try to fill it,” he said. “If a country has no children, immigrants come in and take their place.”
Indeed, when asked about the current influx of refugees into Europe and the US, the Holy Father replied: “It is the tip of an iceberg.”
“These poor people are fleeing war, hunger, but that is the tip of the iceberg.” The underlying cause, he said, is “a bad and unjust socioeconomic system.” When it comes to economics, he said, “the person always has to be in the center” — not the “god of money” and “the idol of fashion.”
Yet the Pope acknowledged the danger of Islamist terrorist infiltrating groups of refugees as a broader strategic plan to claim further territory for a caliphate.
“I recognize,” he said, “that, nowadays, border safety conditions are not what they once were. The truth is that just 400 kilometers from Sicily there is an incredibly cruel terrorist group. So there is a danger of infiltration, this is true.”
He also admitted that Rome is not “immune to this threat.” This explains, he said, why in his recent appeal to parishes and religious institutions throughout Europe, he has asked that one refugee family be taken in. “A family gives more guarantees of security and containment, so as to avoid infiltrations of another kind,” he said.
As announced, the Vatican will soon take in two refugee families, whom the Pope said will stay “as long as the Lord wants.” He indicated, in fact, that “the families have already been identified,” and that “the two Vatican parishes have undertaken to go and search for them.”
Pope Francis thanked the European countries that have “opened their eyes” to the crisis and offered these words of support to those who welcome refugees:
“I congratulate you and I thank you for what you are doing, and let me give you some advice: On Judgment Day, we already know how we will be judged. It is written in chapter 25 of the Gospel of St. Matthew. When Jesus asks you: ‘I was hungry, did you feed me?” you will answer ‘Yes’…‘and when I was a refugee, did you help me?’, ‘Yes’. So I congratulate you: you will pass the test.”
Europe: Recover your Christian roots
The Pope went on to lament the low birth rate in Italy, Portugal and Spain, which is close to 0%, and suggested that having no children is partly due to “a culture of comfort.” He recalled hearing his Italian cousins saying several years ago that they preferred “to travel on our vacations, or buy a villa, or this and that.”
In addition to the problem of a diminishing birthrate, Europe — the Holy Father said — “made a mistake” in forsaking her Christian roots in recent years.
“I’m not criticizing, just remembering, when it chose to speak of its identity without wanting to recognize the deepest level of its identity, its Christians roots. That was a mistake. But, well, we all make mistakes in life… It’s time to recover its faith.”
The continent, he said, can and should “recover its identity”. Indeed, he said, Europe has an “outstanding culture” and should once again take a leadership role in the concert nations.”
Europe, he said, “has not died but only become a little ‘grandmotherly’, but it can return to being a mother.”
Questioned about his popularity, and the compatibility of the “Francis effect” with the Lord’s warning that his followers would be “hated because of [His] Name,” the Pope responded: “I often ask myself what my cross will be like, what my cross is like… crosses exist. You can’t see them, but they are there.”
“Jesus also, for a certain time, was very popular, and look at how that turned out,” he said. “So nobody has his happiness guaranteed in this world. The only thing I ask is that this peace in my heart be maintained and that He keep me in his grace, because, until the last moment we are sinners and we can renounce his grace.”
The pontiff admitted he takes comfort in knowing that “St. Peter committed a serious sin — denying Jesus — and then they made him Pope.”
“If they made him Pope despite that sin,” he continued, “with all the sins I have it is a great consolation, because the Lord will look after me as he looked after Peter.”
The Holy Father concluded: “But Peter died on a cross, whereas I don’t know how I’ll die. Let Him decide, so long as he gives me peace, may His will be done.”
Possible Visit to Fatima
Asked about a possible trip to Fatima in 2017 for the centenary of the approved Marian apparitions to 3 shepherd children with a message of prayer, sacrifice, and penance for sinners, the Pope admitted he wants “very much to go to Portugal for the centenary.”
“In 2017 it is also the 300 year anniversary of the discovery of the image of Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil,” he added.
How people can prepare for a possible visit? “The Virgin Mary always asks us to pray, to look after the family and follow the commandments,” he replied.
“She doesn’t make odd requests,” he said. “She asks us to pray for those who have lost their way, for those who say they are sinners — aren’t we all? I am the first.” Her “motherly message” should guide all preparation for the visit, concluded, nothing: “It’s curious, she always looks to the simple souls, doesn’t she? Very simple.”
To read an English translation of the Pope’s full interview, click here.
Diane Montagnais Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.