In his audience with the national directors of the Catholic Church’s charitable works for immigrants in Europe, Pope Francis spoke in favor of welcoming more migrants throughout the continent. Speaking on Friday, the pontiff told his listeners to beware of what he called the “intolerance, discrimination and xenophobia” present in Europe. The meeting was sponsored by the Catholic bishops’ conferences of Europe. In this, the pope appears to be allied with German chancellor Angela Merkel.
While Pope Francis recognized that there have “massive migrant flows” in Europe, which have “thrown into crisis migratory policies held up to now,” he rejected immigration policies that are intended to protect the religious and cultural identities of Europeans. “I won’t hide my concern in the face of the signs of intolerance, discrimination and xenophobia that have arisen in different regions of Europe,” said the pope, that are “often fueled by reticence and fear of the other, the one who is different, the foreigner.”
“I am worried still more by the sad awareness that our Catholic communities in Europe are not exempt from these reactions of defensiveness and rejection, justified by an unspecified ‘moral duty’ to conserve one’s original cultural and religious identity,” said the pontiff.
The pope appealed to the history of Catholic missionary work around the world and its universality. “The Church has spread through every continent thanks to the ‘migration’ of so many missionaries who were convinced of the universality of the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, destined for the men and women of every culture,” he said.
“Temptations to exclusiveness and cultural entrenchment have not been wanting in the history of the Church,” the pope said, “but the Holy Spirit has always helped us to overcome them, guaranteeing a constant openness toward the other, considered as a concrete possibility of growth and enrichment.”
He remains convinced that “the Holy Spirit will help us to keep an attitude of trusting openness that will allow us to overcome every barrier and scale every wall.” He also suggested that Europeans’ fears about immigrants may be due to a lack of cohesion and political unification in Europe. “In my constant listening to the particular churches in Europe I have perceived a profound uneasiness in the face of the massive arrival of migrants and refugees,” Francis said. “This uneasiness must be recognized and understood in the light of a historical juncture characterized by an economic crisis that has left deep wounds. This uneasiness has been aggravated, moreover, by the scope and composition of the migrant flows, by a substantial lack of preparedness in the host countries and by frequently inadequate national and community policies.”
“But the uneasiness is also indicative of the limits in the process of European unification,” the pontiff continued, “of the obstacles faced by the concrete application of the universality of human rights, and of the walls encountered by the integral humanism that constitutes one of the most beautiful fruits of European civilization.”
According to a report by Centro Machiavelli, the migrant crisis in Europe has caused an “unprecedented’ change in the demographics of Italy. Released in June, the report showed that as of January 2017, Italy had more than 5 million foreign-born nationals living as residents, which represented a notable growth of 25 percent when compared to 2012, while it is a full 270 percent increase over 2002. In 2002, foreigners in Italy amounted to merely 2.38 percent of the population. This year, their number has reached 8.33 percent of the population.
The Centro Machiavelli report showed that should current demographic trends continue, first- and second-generation immigrants will exceed 22 million persons in 2065. In other words, they would amount to more than 40 percent of Italy’s total population.
Elsewhere in Europe, Pope Francis has an apparent ally with regard to migrants in German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is running for re-election on Sunday. When they are photographed together, they appear to show warmth and affability toward each other and relative positions. In June, Merkel said that the pope “encouraged me to continue and fight for international agreements, including the Paris [climate] agreement.” According to Fr. Edmund Waldstein, an Austrian monk who writes for The Catholic Herald of the UK, the pope admires Merkel “because he is convinced that she is not the sinister globalist that her critics claim.” Even so, the pope has criticized in the past what he calls “the globalisation of the technocratic paradigm.”
Merkel, Waldstein writes, considers that the migrants who come to Europe are not mere “masses,” but individuals “created in the likeness of God.” Merkel, the daughter of a Protestant Christian minister who was raised in the former East Germany, leads the Christian Democratic Union party that, while it was founded with US help after WW2 to bring together Catholics and Protestants to turn away from the National Socialism of Hitler’s government, has become more secular during the eight years of Merkel’s tenure. As for critics of her government, who said that the Christian identity of Germany has been endangered by Merkel’s policies, her advice is blunt:
“If you are worried about the preservation of Christian culture, go to church more often and read the Bible.”