Pope Francis has again warned against “us first” or “sovereignist” ideologies advanced by political leaders in some countries today, and in an Aug. 6 interview with the Italian newspaper La Stampa, he said they could lead to war. These countries would appear to include Italy and the United States, though he did not name either.
“I am concerned because we hear speeches that resemble those of Hitler in 1934. ‘Us first, we...we….’ These are frightening thoughts,” he said in the interview published this morning by the Italian daily, in which he also speaks about migrants, climate change and the importance of next October’s Synod on the Amazon.
Pope Francis: “I am concerned because we hear speeches that resemble those of Hitler in 1934.”
Speaking to Domenico Agasso Jr., the newspaper’s Vatican correspondent, Pope Francis expressed his concern for the European Union in the light of populist movements that threaten its fragmentation. He may have had in mind Matteo Salvini, leader of The League, a xenophobic and anti-immigrant party in Italy with the slogan “Italians first.” (Mr. Salvini is now threatening to bring down the coalition government in which his party is a partner.) Pope Francis’ remarks were read by observers in Rome as also alluding to the politics of U.S. President Donald Trump and his “America first” policies.
Francis sought to distinguish between “sovereignism” and “sovereignity,” explaining that “sovereignism reveals an attitude toward isolation” and means “being closed.” He said, “Sovereignty must be defended, but relations with other countries, [such as] with the European community, must also be protected and promoted.” He warned that “sovereignism is an exaggeration that always ends badly: It leads to war.”
He said the same is true of “populism.” Francis said, “[it is] one thing is for people to express themselves, [but] another to impose a populist attitude on the people.”
“Sovereignism is an exaggeration that always ends badly: It leads to war.”
Pope Francis also said, “Europe cannot and must not break apart.” He expressed hope for renewed unity after the elections for the European Parliament in May, which put a brake on the populist movements in many countries (though not in Italy). He expressed confidence that the new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, “can be the right person to revive” the European Union because “women know how to bring people together.”
One of the big challenges facing Europe today is the influx of migrants from Africa and the Middle East. Asked about this, Francis said, “Never neglect the most important right of all: the right to life. Immigrants come here above all to escape from war or hunger, from the Middle East and Africa.” He added, “the African continent is the victim of a cruel curse: In the collective imagination, it seems that this continent should be exploited. Instead, part of the solution is to invest there to help solve their problems and thus stop the migration flows.”
He added: “Criteria should be followed. First: to receive, which is also a Christian, evangelical duty. Doors shall be opened, not closed. Second: to accompany. Third: to promote. Fourth, to integrate. At the same time, governments must think and act prudently…. Those in charge are called to think about how many migrants they can take in.”
The Amazon synod and “Laudato Si’”
Asked about the importance of October’s Synod on the Amazon, Pope Francis declared the event “the child” of “Laudato Si’,” also known as “On Care of Our Common Home.” He said, “Those who have not read it will never understand the Synod on the Amazon. ‘Laudato Si’’ is not a green encyclical, it is a social encyclical, which is based on a ‘green’ reality, the custody of Creation.”
Asked why the synod is focusing on the Amazon region, Francis said, “It is a representative and decisive place. Together with the oceans it contributes decisively to the survival of the planet. Much of the oxygen we breathe comes from there. That’s why deforestation means killing humanity. And then the Amazon involves nine states, so it doesn’t concern a single nation. And I’m thinking of the richness of the Amazonian plant and animal biodiversity. It’s wonderful.”
Indeed, when asked what he fears most for the future of the planet, Francis said, “The disappearance of biodiversity,” along with “new lethal diseases.” More broadly, he warned of the “devastation of nature that can lead to the death of humanity.”
He said he was “shocked” by “Overshoot Day”: “On July 29th, we used up all the regenerative resources of 2019. From July 30 we started to consume more resources than the planet can regenerate in a year. It’s very serious. It’s a global emergency.”
But he said that the October synod “is not a meeting of scientists or politicians. It is not a parliament; it is something else. It was convened by the church and will have an evangelizing mission and dimension. It will be a work of communion guided by the Holy Spirit.”
Asked if the ordination of married men as priests in the Pan-Amazon region would be a main theme of the synod, Francis responded: “Absolutely not. It is simply a topic of the [working document]. The important thing will be the ministries of evangelization.”