On behalf of modern society, Pope Francis begged the forgiveness of migrants and refugees Tuesday, asking them to forgive our “closed-mindedness and indifference” and insisting that each migrant has “the face of God.”
“Too often you have not been welcomed,” Francis said. “Forgive the closed-mindedness and indifference of our societies, which fear the change of lifestyle and mentality that your presence requires.”
The Pope addressed these words to migrants as part of a recorded video message in which he praised the work of the Jesuits who run the Centro Astalli, the Italian headquarters of the Jesuit Refugee Service. The message was released on April 19 in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the center.
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” the Pope said, citing Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. Each of you, he said, has “the face of God and the flesh of Christ.”
Francis also told his audience, comprising migrants, workers and volunteers, that in contemporary society migrants are often treated like a burden or a problem, when in fact “you are instead a gift.”
“Whoever has like you fled his own land as a result of oppression, war, nature disfigured by pollution and desertification, or the unjust distribution of the planet’s resources, is a brother with whom to share bread, home and life,” Francis said.
On Saturday, the Pope visited with migrants and refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, and brought 12 Syrian refugees back to Italy with him aboard the papal plane as a “gesture of welcome.”
The Vatican said it would assume responsibility for the sustenance of the three families, enlisting the Catholic charitable organization of Sant’Egidio to provide the initial hospitality.
Two of the families come from Damascus, and the other from Deir Azzor, in the area occupied by the Islamic State, and all three families had their homes bombed during the Syrian civil war.
All the members of the three families are Muslims, and six of the 12 refugees are children.
Italians’ tolerance of immigrants is waning, however, in the face of waves of new migrants hitting its shores every day.
Estimates vary, but Italy expects several hundred thousand new arrivals this year, most of whom will cross the Mediterranean Sea in small vessels from Libya.
As alternative migratory routes into Europe are closing, more and more are choosing Italy as the preferred—or only—point of entry. This has resulted in many Italians feeling “under siege,” and there is talk of a looming national crisis.
“Of course we are worried,” says Italy’s Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan.
“We are worried first of all from a humanitarian point of view, from a security point of view, and then of course from a financial point of view. The cost of migration has been substantial,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome