Pope Francis: Unease with Mass Migration Due to ‘Innate Fear of the Foreigner’

Pope Francis (C) speaks to migrants during his visit to the island of Lampedusa, a key destination of tens of thousands of would-be immigrants from Africa, on July 8, 2013. Pope Francis called for an end to 'indifference' to the plight of refugees on Monday on a visit to an …

In an address in the Vatican Saturday, Pope Francis seemed to attribute people’s concerns with Europe’s migrant crisis to xenophobia, suggesting that a “culture of encounter” could remedy opposition to migration.

Speaking to members of the Association of National Italian Municipalities (ANCI), the Pope said he understands “the distress of many of your citizens in the face of the massive arrival of migrants and refugees.”

This distress, he continued, “finds its explanation in an innate fear of the ‘foreigner,’ a fear exacerbated by the wounds caused by the economic crisis, the unpreparedness of the local communities, and the inadequacy of many measures taken in an emergency atmosphere.”

In this statement, Francis seems to have joined the ranks of those who attribute concerns over mass migration and its consequences on xenophobia, from the Greek words xenos (foreigner) and phobia (fear).

“This discomfort can be overcome by offering meeting spaces and mutual knowledge,” the pope said Saturday. “Initiatives that promote a culture of encounter, mutual exchange of artistic and cultural riches and the knowledge of newcomers’ places and communities of origin are all welcome.”

Francis went on to praise the municipal workers for their efforts to welcome migrants and help them integrate into the local communities.

“I am pleased to know that many of the local governments represented here can be counted among the main proponents of reception and integration practices,” he said, “with encouraging results that deserve to be widely known. I hope that many will follow your example.”

On Wednesday, Pope Francis launched a two-year campaign to educate people about the plight of migrants and to provoke a “shift in thinking” toward them worldwide.

“Brothers, we mustn’t be afraid to share the journey! We mustn’t be afraid to share the hope!” Francis said in his weekly General Audience in Saint Peter’s Square, in which he inaugurated the new project, titled “Share the Journey.”

The campaign is being overseen by the global Catholic charities network Caritas Internationalis and aims at promoting awareness and action on behalf of migrants and refugees, assisting them in building connections with local communities.

According to Caritas, part of the needed “shift in thinking” involves dispelling common “myths about migration,” which include the idea that there are more migrants than ever before, that migrants live off welfare benefits and steal jobs from citizens, that closing borders will stem migrant flows, and that “people from poor countries migrate to rich ones.”

report released this summer by the Centro Machiavelli found that Europe’s immigration crisis is causing an “unprecedented” shift in Italy’s demographics.

As of last January, Italy had more than five million foreigners living as residents, a growth of a remarkable 25 percent relative to 2012 and a full 270 percent over 2002. At that time, foreigners made up just 2.38 percent of the population, while fifteen years later, the figure has nearly trebled to 8.33 percent of the population.

If current trends continue, the report states, by 2065, first- and second-generation immigrants will exceed 22 million, or more than 40 percent of Italy’s total population.

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