In a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella Saturday, Pope Francis praised Italy’s generosity in welcoming the “numerous refugees that land on its shores.”
The Pope went for an official state visit to the Quirinale palace Saturday morning, where he made a public speech before meeting with President Mattarella in private.
In his address, Francis noted that in the present moment Italy and all of Europe are called to face “problems and risks of different sorts,” of which he highlighted three in particular: “international terrorism, which is fueled by fundamentalism; the migratory phenomenon, aggravated by wars and by grave and persistent social and economic inequalities in many parts of the world; and the difficulties the younger generations face in finding stable, honourable work, which increases distrust in the future and discourages the birth of new families and children.”
Italy has responded to these problems with its customary generosity, Pope Francis said, turning them into opportunities.
He was pleased to note how Italy, “with the active generosity of its citizens and the commitment of its institutions, and drawing on its abundant spiritual resources, has risen to the occasion to transform these challenges into opportunities for growth.”
Proof of this, he said, is “the welcoming of the numerous refugees who land on its shores, the work of first assistance guaranteed by its ships in the Mediterranean and the commitment of a multitude of volunteers, among whom ecclesiastical associations and groups stand out, as well as parish networks.”
Further proof is Italy’s “significant commitment in the international sphere to foster peace, maintain security and bring about cooperation among nations.”
Returning to the question of migration, the Pope said that the Italian response bears witness to its deep Christian spirit.
“The way in which the Italian state and people are dealing with the migratory crisis,” Francis said, “is an expression of sentiments and attitudes whose most genuine source is found in the Christian faith, which has forged the character of the Italians and shines even more brightly in dramatic moments.”
Concerning the “vast and complex migratory phenomenon,” he continued, “it’s clear that a few nations cannot bear the entire burden, ensuring an ordered integration of new arrivals into the social fabric.”
For this reason, he said, “it is urgent and indispensable to develop a broad and incisive international cooperation.”
Earlier this year, Pope Francis called Europe’s migrant crisis “the greatest tragedy since the Second World War.”
He also underscored the importance of the “integration” of migrants into their host society, as well as the “reciprocal rights and obligations of those who receive and those who are received.”
Pope Francis has often returned to the question of immigration, encouraging individuals and nations to keep an open heart toward migrants and to treat them in a way befitting their dignity as human beings.
Last fall, the pontiff said it is “hypocritical to call oneself a Christian and send away a refugee, or one who needs my help. Jesus taught us who the good Christian is in the parable of the good Samaritan,” he said.
At the same time, Francis has also insisted on the sovereign right of nations to control their borders.
“Yes, every country has the right to control its borders, who comes and who goes,” Francis said in a lengthy interview in January, “and those countries at risk —from terrorism or such things— have even more right to control them more.”
In that same interview, the Pope also underscored the problem of integration, that is, the possibility of successfully assimilating immigrants into the existing culture.
“Where there is no integration,” Francis said, immigrants become “ghettoized,” and do not become part of the culture of their host country.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome