Pope Francis: Protecting the world's migrants and refugees is a moral imperative

Syrian refugee children stand outside their school in Zahle, Lebanon, in the country's Bekaa Valley April 12. (CNS photo/Dale Gavlak)  Syrian refugee children stand outside their school in Zahle, Lebanon, in the country's Bekaa Valley April 12. (CNS photo/Dale Gavlak) 

Pope Francis has again emphasized the urgent need for “a coordinated and effective response” by the political community, civil society and the church to the challenges arising from the massive wave of migration across the world that has created the greatest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.

Addressing participants at the Sixth International Forum on Migration and Peace taking place in Rome on Feb. 21 to 22, the pope said it is a “moral imperative” to protect migrant workers “and among these particularly men and women in irregular situations” as well as those “exiled and seeking asylum” or “victims of trafficking.”

Moreover, he said, “defending their inalienable rights, ensuring their fundamental freedoms and respecting their dignity are duties from which no one can be exempted.”

The pope did not name any country, but his emphasis on protecting undocumented workers is particularly significant for Europe and the United States, where the treatment of refugees and migrants has been a consistent challenge. He listed several initiatives that could protect migrating people, including the adoption of clear juridical instruments, both international and national, the implementation of “just and far reaching political choices” and programs to fight human trafficking.

In the final part of his talk, delivered in the stately and beautiful Sala Clementina, Pope Francis told the forum participants, “We have a duty toward our brothers and sisters who, for various reasons, have been forced to leave their homeland: a duty of justice, of civility and of solidarity.”

‘We have a duty toward our brothers and sisters who, for various reasons, have been forced to leave their homeland: a duty of justice, of civility and of solidarity.’

Referring to the “duty of justice,” he said, “we can no longer sustain unacceptable economic inequality, which prevents us from applying the principle of the universal destination of the earth’s goods…. One group of individuals cannot control half of the world’s resources. We cannot allow for persons and entire peoples to have a right only to gather the remaining crumbs. Nor can we be indifferent or think ourselves dispensed from the moral imperatives which flow from a joint responsibility to care for the planet.”

Commenting on “the duty of civility,” he said, “our commitment to migrants, exiles and refugees is an application of those principles and values of welcome and fraternity that constitute a common patrimony of humanity and wisdom,” codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements. Today more than ever, he said, “it is necessary to affirm the centrality of the human person, without allowing immediate and ancillary circumstances, or even the necessary fulfillment of bureaucratic and administrative requirements, to obscure this essential dignity.”

Then there is “a duty of solidarity” in the face of tragedies, such as conflicts, persecutions, violence, that take the lives of so many migrants and refugees. “Solidarity is born precisely from the capacity to understand the needs of our brothers and sisters who are in difficulty and to take responsibility for these needs.”

The sacred value of hospitality, present in all religious traditions, is based on this. “For us Christians,” the pope said, “hospitality offered to the weary traveler is offered to Jesus Christ himself, through the newcomer: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Mt 25:35). The duty of solidarity is to counter the throwaway culture and give greater attention to those who are weakest, poorest and most vulnerable."

‘For us Christians, hospitality offered to the weary traveler is offered to Jesus Christ himself.’

He concluded with a special appeal to welcome, protect and integrate “the children and young people who are forced to live far from their homeland and who are separated from their loved ones.” They are particularly vulnerable and need protection, he said.

Pope Francis said that contemporary human migration, “in terms of origin, transit or destination, involves nearly every part of the world,” and he drew attention to the fact that “in the majority of cases, this movement is forced, caused by conflict, natural disasters, persecution, climate change, violence, extreme poverty and inhumane living conditions.”

The pope advocated a “shared response” to this crisis by the political community, civil society and the church. He said that effort could be described with four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate.

Two years ago, in January 2015, addressing the ambassadors from 180 countries that have diplomatic relations with the Holy See, Francis observed that “rejection is an attitude we all share; it makes us see our neighbor not as a brother or sister to be accepted, but as unworthy of our attention, a rival or someone to be bent to our will.”

In his address on Feb. 21, he said rejection is “rooted ultimately in self-centeredness and amplified by populist rhetoric,” and he underlined the need for “a change of attitude, to overcome indifference and to counter fears with a generous approach of welcoming those who knock at our doors.”

He called for the promotion of an “integral human development” of migrants, exiles and refugees and said this requires “a coordinated effort” involving the political community, civil society, international organizations and religious institutions.

The pope highlighted the need for the integration of migrants in host countries and explained that this “is neither assimilation nor incorporation. It is a two-way process, rooted essentially in the joint recognition of the other’s cultural richness: It is not the superimposing of one culture over another, nor mutual isolation, with the insidious and dangerous risk of creating ghettos.”

Migrants “are duty bound not to close themselves off from the culture and traditions of the receiving country” and must respect its laws, he said. Governments, on the other hand, should foster “the family dimension of integration” with policies that favor and benefit the reunion of families.

The two-day conference was organized by the newly established Vatican Department for Promoting Integral Human Development in collaboration with the Scalabrini International Migration Network.

Correction, Feb. 21, 2017: A previous version of this article misidentified the Vatican's Department for Promoting Integral Human Development as the Department for the Protection of Human Development.

E.Patrick Mosman
2 months 4 weeks ago

Pope Francis is totally misinformed either through a failure to study and understand the situations in the Middle East, Africa and the Americas or to rely on the leftist advisers when he offers advice to President Trump on the refugee problem. Whose moral failures are responsible for the refugee crisis?
The Pope should be emphasizing that these refugees from the Middle East and Africa are fleeing from the internecine religious Sunni vs Shia warfare and homicidal Muslim hordes labeled,ISIS, Boko Haram, et al targeting non-muslims, in particular Christians, that are devastating their homelands. The refugees from Mexico, Cuba and Central/South America are fleeing corrupt politicians/government officials and vicious drug lords. And where do these homeless want to go? They are heading to those countries whose socio-economic systems the Pope condemns as "bad, unjust" and even worse. The Pope should be lecturing the leaders of those countries to improve conditions so that their citizens do not have to leave instead of calling out those countries that must absorb them. He is truly preaching a false economic message to go with his false non-science based musings on climate change.

Vincent Gaglione
2 months 4 weeks ago

There is a cadre of writers on this website who reiterate, over and over, the same remarks, criticisms, and logic that attempt to undermine and/or contradict what Pope Francis teaches. They object to Francis’ criticisms of unfettered capitalism and accumulated unused wealth, which is contradictory to the admonitions of Christ and Scriptures to provide for the poor and the oppressed. They point vividly to the fractious nature and internecine violence of Islamic sects, ignoring the sad history of the same among Christians over the past 1900 years wherever Christianity was embedded. They emphasize the fragile state of life for Christians in various places and suggest that only these Christians are somehow worthy of our attention. They fail to identify all refugees and undocumented immigrants, no matter their origins or beliefs, as fellow human beings worthy of some compassion and immediate assistance, yes, from our bounty and our wealth.

I find their critiques tedious. Speak to me please about the Gospel values which Francis preaches. Are they wrong? Are they distorted? Are they not Christian? What has Francis said about dealing with refugees and undocumented immigrants that is contrary to Catholic Christian values? That Francis’ teachings might contradict current USA values, surely, but before any human law we as Catholics are bound through Baptism to follow Christ’s teachings!

E.Patrick Mosman
2 months 4 weeks ago

Mr Gaglione,

Mr Gaglione,
"Speak to me please about the Gospel values"
The seven practices of charity toward our neighbor, based on Christ’s prophecy of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:35), that will determine each person’s, not presidents, politicians, nor government bureaucrats, final destiny was taught us from the Baltimore Catechism: 1. Feed the hungry 2. Give drink to the thirsty 3. Clothe the naked 4. Shelter the homeless 5. Visit the sick 6. Visit those in prison 7. Bury the dead For those who claim that Jesus was a big-government socialist provider with regard to helping those in need and reducing individuals personal responsibility to only “Love the Neighbor’ and replacing it with government programs is a misreading of His message. Jesus Christ made the point “to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” with no guidelines as to how the Romans were to spend the tax monies. “For you will have the poor always with you” Matthew 26.11 and nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus Christ lay the responsibility for caring for the poor, the sick the hungry or thirsty, the homeless or any oppressed people on any governmental body. He did not cite King Herod, the priests of the temple, the local politicians or the Roman powers as the source of Charity. He made it an individual responsibility time after time in His sermons, in His parables and in His own acts. The Good Samaritan was not an example of “Love thy neighbor” because he stopped at the inn to make a 911 call but because he acted, providing aid, comfort and financial assistance to his neighbor. Jesus Christ’s teachings cannot be used to support states becoming the major or only source of charitable acts.
Pope Francis's concern for the poor is admirable, however his criticism of capitalism is uncalled for as an economic system it has provided more opportunities for the individuals to rise from poverty than communism, socialism, fascism, monarchy and dictatorship combined. In the future the Pope needs to be more specific regarding his preferred economic system.

It seems you have a reading or more likely a comprehension problem as you totally ignored my points and try to reinterpret what was written.
In plain English Pope Francis has
-essentially condemned the economic systems of the USA/Europe and other capitalist nations.
-failed to condemn the failure of many nations, Central and South America to protect the rights of their citizens from crooked politicians and vicious gangs.
-failed to challenge the Shia mullahs of Iran and the Wahabbi mullahs of Saudi Arabia who support terrorism and the internecine religious Muslim wars which are killing fellow Muslims,non- Muslims specially Christians and Jews.
The Pope has failed to attack the root causes of these mass migrations even praising Islam as a great religion while expecting nations that he has routinely condemned to open their borders to everyone.

We have had a similar exchange earlier

J Cosgrove
2 months 3 weeks ago

Is the correct advice for migrants to stay at home or close to home. Traveling far from where they are located could cause harm and even death and lead to a residence in a society where they can not assimilate or be wanted. So is the most moral advice

stay at home or close to home

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