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Pope Francis on welcoming migrants and refugees with both generosity and prudence



Pope Francis greets migrants and refugees at the Moria refugee camp on April 16, 2016 near the port of Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos. Pope Francis received an emotional welcome today on the Greek island of Lesbos during a visit aimed at showing solidarity with migrants fleeing war and poverty. Pope Francis, Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Jerome visit Lesbos today to turn the spotlight on Europe's controversial deal with Turkey to end an unprecedented refugee crisis. Photo by Filippo Monteforte

Diane Montagna - published on 01/31/17

A look at the thinking of the Holy Father on the burning issue of the day

VATICAN CITY — Over the past year, Pope Francis has many times shared his thoughts on the plight of refugees both in formal addresses as well as informal interviews.

Welcoming refugees is a Christian duty, the pope has said repeatedly. Yet public authorities must exercise the virtue of prudence in order to to ensure that those who are welcomed intend “to respect the laws, culture and traditions of the countries in which they are received,” without the latter sensing that “their security, cultural identity and political-social stability are threatened.”

“Hearts must not be closed to refugees, but those who govern need prudence.”

Here are several key quotes from Pope Francis on the issue over the past year.

Pope Francis urges faithful to help meet refugees' needs

Stations of the Cross (the sixth station, Veronica wipes the face of Jesus) on Good Friday, March 25, 2016:

“We instinctively try to run away from suffering, because suffering is repugnant to us. We come across so many faces disfigured by the afflictions of life and too often we turn away.  How can we not see the face of the Lord in the face of the millions of exiles, refugees, and displaced persons who are fleeing in desperation from the horror of war, persecution and dictatorship? For every one of them, each with a unique face, God reveals himself always as the one who courageously comes to our aid. Like Veronica, the woman whose face is unknown to us, who lovingly wiped Jesus’ face.”

May 17, 2016 interview with the French online publication, La Croix:

“We cannot open the doors irrationally. The fundamental question to be posed is why are there so many migrants today, and the problem is the wars in the Middle East and Africa, and underdevelopment of the African continent. If there is war it is because there are arms manufacturers — production justified in the case of defense — especially arms traffickers.”

Inflight press conference, on his return to Rome from Sweden, November 1, 2016:

“What do I think of countries that close their frontiers? I think that, in theory, hearts must not be closed to refugees, but those who govern need prudence. They must be very open to receiving refugees, but they also have to calculate how best to settle them, because refugees must not only be accepted, but also integrated. Consequently, if a country has, say, the ability to integrate twenty persons, they should do this. Another country that has greater capacity should do more. But always with an open heart: it is not human to close the door, it is not human to close the heart, and in the long run, a price is paid for this. Here, the price is political, just as a political price can be paid for an imprudent judgement, for accepting more than can be integrated. What is the danger when refugees or migrants – and this applies to everybody – are not integrated? They become a ghetto.”

Address to Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, January 9, 2017: 

“With regard to migrants, displaced persons and refugees, a common commitment is needed, one focused on offering them a dignified welcome. This would involve respecting the right of ‘every human being… to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there,’ [John XXIII, Encyclical Letter, Pacem in Terris (April 11, 1963), 25] while at the same time ensuring that migrants can be integrated into the societies in which they are received without the latter sensing that their security, cultural identity and political-social stability are threatened. On the other hand, immigrants themselves must not forget that they have a duty to respect the laws, culture and traditions of the countries in which they are received.

Prudence on the part of public authorities does not mean enacting policies of exclusion vis-à-vis migrants, but it does entail evaluating, with wisdom and foresight, the extent to which their country is in a position, without prejudice to the common good of citizens, to offer a decent life to migrants, especially those truly in need of protection. Above all, the current crisis should not be reduced to a simple matter of numbers. Migrants are persons, with their own names, stories and families. There can never be true peace as long as a single human being is violated in his or her personal identity and reduced to a mere statistic or an object of economic calculation.”

Interview with the Spanish language newspaper, El Pais, January 22, 2017:

“Can borders be controlled? Yes, each country has the right to control its borders, who comes in and who goes out, and those countries at risk —from terrorism or such things— have even more of a right to control them, but no country has the right to deprive its citizens of the possibility to talk with their neighbors.”

In the same interview, Pope Francis also spoke of the response of the Church in Rome:

“With a high percentage of parishes of Rome, when they didn’t have a large house, or when the rectory was small, the faithful rented an apartment for a family of migrants. In the institutes run by religious, whenever there was room, they made space for migrant families. The response has been greater than one would believe; it wasn’t publicized. The Vatican has two parishes and each parish has one migrant family. One apartment for each family of migrants. The response is ongoing. Not one hundred percent. What percentage, I do not know. But I would say fifty percent. Then there is the problem of integration. Every immigrant is a very serious problem. They flee from their countries on account of hunger or war. Solutions need to be sought there. Through hunger and war, they are exploited.”

One especially noteworthy point made by Pope Francis addresses his concerns that assisting migrants and refugees not be reduced to impersonal bureaucratic processing.  “Above all,” the pope has said, “the current crisis should not be reduced to a simple matter of numbers. Migrants are persons, with their own names, stories and families.”

Pope FrancisRefugees
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