In a striking gesture Wednesday, Pope Francis invited fourteen African migrants to join him on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica, urging Europe to open its doors to more refugees.
The fourteen migrants were guests of Caritas of Florence and the European university, and carried banners of the charity that is caring for them along with Vatican flags. On arriving in St. Peter’s Square, Francis embraced them and then asked them to accompany him to his chair and remain near him during his weekly catechesis and greetings.
Comparing the refugees with him to modern “lepers,” the Pope stressed that Jesus would touch those who were excluded, but modern Christians seldom do.
“How many times we meet a poor person who comes to us!” Francis said in his address. “We can even be generous and compassionate, but usually we do not touch them. We offer money, we drop it there, but we avoid touching their hand. And we forget that this is the body of Christ!”
“Jesus teaches us to not be afraid to touch the poor and the marginalized, because He is in them,” he continued. “Touching the poor person can purify us from hypocrisy and make us more concerned for his situation.”
In his remarks, Francis suggested that the refugees left dire situations in their home countries.
“Today I am joined by these young people,” Francis continued. “Many think that it would have been better for them to remain in their homeland, but they suffered so much there.”
“These are our refugees, but many consider them excluded,” the Pope continued. “Please, they are our brothers!”
“A Christian excludes no one, makes room for everyone, lets everybody come,” he said.
This past April, Pope Francis brought a dozen Syrian refugees back home with him on the papal plane when he visited the Greek island of Lesbos.
During that trip, Francis told his hearers that “we are all migrants” as he greeted the many asylum-seekers awaiting word regarding the processing of their cases.
Recently, the Vatican brought a second group of Syrian refugees to Rome to be housed by a Catholic charity. Two of the nine refugees are Christians.
According to the Pew Research Center, more than 1 million immigrants applied for asylum in Europe between July 2015 and May 2016.
As a result, the compositions of the populations in several European countries have changed notably, since “immigrant shares have dramatically increased since mid-2015.”
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