ROME — Pope Francis said that it is a “Christian duty” to welcome migrants, insisting that doors should be opened to them rather than closed.
In a wide-ranging interview published Friday by the Italian daily, La Stampa, the pope fielded several questions on immigration, reiterating his belief that Christians need to be on the side of open doors.
“Criteria should be followed,” the pope said, among which the first is “to receive, which is also a Christian, evangelical duty. Doors must be opened, not closed.”
Many in Italy have understood the pope’s words to refer, at least in part, to the policies of interior minister Matteo Salvini, who ran for office on campaign promises to curb illegal mass migration. While greatly reducing migrant sea deaths, Mr. Salvini’s decision to close ports to migrants has faced fierce criticism from the Italian Catholic hierarchy.
“Second: to accompany,” the pontiff continued. “Third: to promote. Fourth, to integrate. At the same time, governments must think and act prudently, which is a virtue of governments. Those in charge are called to think about how many migrants they can take in.”
Asked what should be done in the case that the number of migrants exceeds a country’s ability to take them in, the pope urged dialogue and “creativity.”
“The situation can be resolved through dialogue with other countries. Some States need people, for example, for agriculture. I have seen that recently in the face of an emergency something like this has happened: this gives me hope.”
Along with this, the pope suggested that “creativity” is also needed here.
“For example, I am told that in a European country there are semi-empty towns due to the demographic decline. Some migrant communities could be moved there, which among other things might also revive the economy of the area,” he said.
Above all, Francis said, “Never neglect the most important right of all: the right to life. Immigrants come here above all to escape from war or hunger, from the Middle East and Africa.”
“Hunger mainly affects Africa,” he said. “The African continent is the victim of a cruel curse: in the collective imagination, it seems that this continent should be exploited. Instead, part of the solution is to invest there to help solve their problems and thus stop the migration flows.”
In recent months, several African prelates have spoken out against mass migration from Africa into Europe, going so far as to ask European to stop encouraging this sort of migration.
Cardinal Francis Arinze, for instance, once considered a top candidate for the papacy, has urged Europeans to cease encouraging Africans to migrate to Europe, insisting that people are better off in their home countries.
In an interview with the Catholic Herald in July, the 86-year-old cardinal said that when countries lose their young people to migration, they lose the people who can best build their nation’s future.
“So the countries in Europe and America can sometimes help best, not by encouraging the young people to come to Europe as if they looked on Europe as heaven – a place where money grows on trees – but to help the countries from which they come,” he said.
In May of this year, another Nigerian prelate, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, the archbishop of Abuja, said that mass migration out of his country is a sure sign that political leadership has failed.
“Authorities should make Nigeria home. Same should be applicable to other African countries,” he said, while decrying the conditions in which many Nigerian immigrants live.
Having visited Italy and seen the number of Nigerian prostitutes on the streets as a result of mass migration, the cardinal said he was ashamed.
“To tell you bluntly I’m ashamed, I’m ashamed,” he told the BBC. “I’m moving through the streets of Rome, Milan, Naples and I see my daughters on the street on sale.”
“I’m ashamed and I stop and even greet some of them — you can’t even engage them in conversation because they were brought out of the village illiterates. All they learn and all they know on the streets of Italy is what they need for this business — I’m ashamed.”
Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, the head of the Vatican’s liturgical department, also said in April that the Church should not be encouraging migration.
It is wrong to “use the word of God to promote migration,” he said, because using the Bible to encourage migration is a “false interpretation.” It is better “to help people flourish in their culture than to encourage them to come to Europe,” he said.
Cardinal Sarah denounced the Church’s push for migration into Europe in powerful language, insisting that most immigrants wind up in Europe “without work or dignity” and assume the condition of slaves.
“Is that what the Church wants?” he asked, adding that the Church should not support “this new form of slavery that is mass migration.”
Several days later, the cardinal went still further, saying that a Church of migration and ecology is “of interest to no one” and that it risks becoming just another NGO if it focuses on these “horizontal” issues rather than preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.