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