Following Italian Elections, Pope Francis Denounces Anti-Immigration Politics

In this Oct. 1, 2017 file photo, Pope Francis poses for selfies with migrants at a regional migrant center, in Bologna, Italy. In a message issued by the Vatican Friday, Nov. 24, 2017, Francis is decrying those whipping up fear of migrants for political gain, and is urging people to …
AP/Luca Bruno

One week after Italian elections saw a major shift toward anti-establishment parties, Pope Francis has decried politics based on fear of migrants.

“Fears often focus on the foreigner, the one who is different from us, poor, as if he were an enemy,” Francis said Sunday in an address delivered during a visit to the Sant’Egidio Community, an international lay group celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding.

“People even draft plans for the development of nations based on the fight against these people,” the pope continued. “And then we defend ourselves from these people, thinking that in this way we preserve what we have or who we are.”

In last Sunday’s Italian elections, voters favored the Center-Right coalition, which had adopted a hardline stance against open borders in its political program. In the last several years, Italy has taken in some 700,000 migrants, mostly originating from sub-Saharan Africa, and the ruling Democratic Party (PD) had been widely viewed as ineffective in curbing the massive influx of migrants into the country.

In his speech Sunday, Pope Francis focused especially on the issue of fear.

Fear, he said, “is an ancient disease” and a poor counselor, to which Christians are not immune. “Our time knows great fears in the face of the vast dimensions of globalization.”

“The Word of God has protected you in the past from the temptations of ideology and today frees you from intimidation of fear,” he said.

In point of fact, however, the pontiff would seem not be counseling against all fear, but particularly the fear of immigrants.

For example, he has warned of fearsome consequences that will befall the human race if we are not successful in combating “climate change,” which he says is a root cause of wars and migration.

Citing a climate change report last September, Francis declared that “we only have three years to turn back, or there will be terrible consequences.”

“I do not know if the three years are true or not, but if we do not go back, we are going down!” Francis said. “Climate change is seen in its effects, and we all have a moral responsibility in making decisions. I think it’s a very serious thing.”

Last week a Vatican official announced that the Church seeks to change people’s views on mass migration by highlighting positive stories to replace the negative accounts that dominate the media.

The co-secretary of the Vatican’s department for migrants and refugees, Jesuit Father Michael Czerny, said that the Church needs to “change the narrative” on immigration, because “the public view is negative.”

“We need positive stories,” Czerny said, in order to help people appreciate the benefits of migration instead of always underscoring its problems. People tend to treat migrants as “scapegoats,” the priest said, blaming them for problems that have nothing to do with them.

It is unclear whether the pontiff believes that making policy decisions regarding fossil fuels based on fear of global warming would constitute succumbing to the “ancient disease” of fear.

In the past, Francis has advised political leaders to use the virtue of “prudence” in deciding how many migrants they can reasonably take in and integrate into their societies.

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