According to Pope Francis, the only “reasonable response” to the challenges presented by contemporary migration is “solidarity and mercy,” less concerned with political calculations and more with an equitable distribution of responsibilities.
Quoting a passage from the Bible, the pontiff on Friday said that “the days are coming” in which God will “send a famine on the land… a thirst for hearing the words of the Lord” upon all those who “trample upon the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land.”
Many of the poor, Francis said, are trampled on today.
“How many of the poor are being brought to ruin! All are the victims of that culture of waste that has been denounced time and time again,” including migrants and refugees who “continue to knock at the door of nations that enjoy greater prosperity.”
Pope Francis’s words came at a private Mass he led in Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica, not on the main altar but in the one known as the Altar of the Seat of Peter, located behind the main altar, allowing for smaller ceremonies. Some 200 people, including migrants and those who work with them, were in attendance.
A just immigration policy, the pontiff said, “is one at the service of the person,” and is capable of providing solutions that can ensure “security, respect for the rights and dignity of all; a policy concerned for the good of one’s own country, while taking into account that of others in an ever more interconnected world.”
Francis also said that even though God promises freedom to all the oppressed, “he needs us to fulfil his promise.”
“He needs our eyes to see the needs of our brothers and sisters. He needs our hands to offer them help. He needs our voice to protest the injustices committed thanks to the silence, often complicit, of so many,” he said, before listing several “silences,” including the silence of common sense and that silence which justifies injustice because “it’s always been done this way.”
Commenting on a passage from the Gospel of Matthew read during the Mass, Francis said that in it Jesus rebukes the Pharisees, pointing his finger at the “sterile hypocrisy of those who do not want to ‘dirty the hands’, like the priest or the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan.”
“This is a temptation powerfully present in our own day,” he added. “It takes the form of closing our hearts to those who have the right, just as we do, to security and dignified living conditions. It builds walls, real or virtual, rather than bridges.”
The Mass was celebrated to mark the fifth anniversary of the pope’s first outing outside of Rome, which took place July 8, 2013. On that occasion, he visited the southern Italian city of Lampedusa, considered one of the entrance doors for the thousands of migrants and refugees fleeing Africa and the Middle East towards Europe.
Explaining his decision to make Lampedusa the destination of his pastoral visit, the pontiff said back in 2013 that the reports of the deaths of desperate people trying to reach a better life that had been like “a thorn in the heart.”
His trip came at the start of the summer months when the Lampedusa, just 70 miles from Tunisia, was seeing a steady flow of rickety and unsafe boats arriving on its shores, a reality that continues today, made even more precarious by decisions from the governments of Italy and Malta to close ports to rescue boats that save many of these migrants from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, which Francis has described as the “Maremortum.”
The Argentine pontiff, a son of Italian immigrants himself, has made the care for those forcibly displaced one of social cornerstone of his pontificate, opening the doors of Vatican property to several migrant families, including the three Syrian families he brought with himself from the Greek island of Lesbos to Italy, as part of a humanitarian corridors initiative.
Speaking in Spanish during his homily on Friday, Francis said that he had wanted to mark the fifth anniversary with “rescuers and those rescued on the Mediterranean Sea,” to thank the former for “embodying” the parable of the Good Samaritan, “who stopped to save the life of the poor man beaten by bandits. He didn’t ask where he was from, his reasons for travelling or his documents… he simply decided to care for him and save his life.”
Addressing the migrants, the pontiff said he “reiterate my solidarity and encouragement, since I am well aware of the tragic circumstances you are fleeing.”
He also urged them to remain “witnesses of hope,” in a world that has little vision for the future, hoping that “with respect for the culture and laws of the country that receives you, may you work out together the path of integration.”