In what the Vatican is billing as a “summit on the migrant emergency,” Pope Francis met with a group of four hundred schoolchildren from the south of Italy on Saturday, assuring them that they have nothing to fear from migrants but should be reaching out to welcome them.
The students all came from the southern Italian region of Calabria, which has been among the areas hardest hit by the waves of migrants that daily reach Italy’s shores, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa.
During the meeting, which took place in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall, the Pope brought forward the life jacket of a Syrian girl who died while her family was trying to reach the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos. Francis also brought out a number of children’s drawings that he received as a gift during his recent visit to a refugee welcome center on the island.
The Pope embraced a young Nigerian boy named Osayande, who saw his family die beside him in the sea while trying to cross over to Italy. The boy has since been adopted by an Italian family.
Francis invited all the children to pray the Hail Mary out loud together with him, in memory of all the migrants who have died at sea, especially in the memory of the six-year-old Syrian girl whose life jacket he was carrying.
The Pope then entered into a lively exchange with the students regarding the acceptance of immigrants.
During the conversation, the Pope urged everyone to awaken from indifference and, leaving aside excuses, to welcome others as brothers and sisters. Invoking the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Pope said that welcoming means taking care of others.
“Migrants are not a danger; they are in danger,” the Pope said. He then had the group repeat several times together with him: “They are not a danger, they are in danger.”
The stranger, Francis said, is not dangerous and bad. He should not scare us just because he has a different skin color, culture or religion, since we are all children of the same Father.
Asked by one of the children how someone can call himself a Christian and go to church, and then reject migrants, Francis spoke of hypocrisy, encouraging the children not to be selfish, but to have the courage to be generous.
Another ten-year-old child, named Antonio, said that people who do not welcome migrants “are beasts.”
Despite his strong words to the children Saturday, the Pope recently expressed his reservations regarding an open-door policy to all migrants wishing to enter Europe.
In an extensive interview with the French Catholic daily La Croix , the pope was asked whether Europe should be accepting so many migrants, to which he replied that “it is a fair and responsible question,” adding that “we cannot open the doors irrationally.”
Last week several thousand more migrants reached Italy’s shores, many of whom were rescued by the Italian Coast Guard in the Strait of Sicily. Along with the survivors, as many as 60 bodies have been recovered from the sea, and hundreds more are reportedly still missing.
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