Speaking on the Greek island of Lesbos, Pope Francis called the neglect of migrants the “shipwreck of civilisation”.
The Pope first visited Lesbos in 2016, when it was a major entry point for people trying to reach Europe.
Since then, new flashpoints have emerged and the Pope expressed regret that little had changed.
Last month 27 people died when their inflatable dinghy sank in the Channel between France and the UK. The number of people attempting the crossing has been growing, with more than 26,000 people arriving in the UK so far this year, more than double last year’s total.
Several people have also died in freezing temperatures attempting to cross into Poland from Belarus, which denies accusations it has been orchestrating the crisis at its border to destabilise the EU.
“In Europe there are those who persist in treating the problem as a matter that does not concern them – this is tragic,” Pope Francis said.
“History teaches us that narrow self-interest and nationalism lead to disastrous consequences.”
The pontiff was speaking at a temporary camp housing about 2,000 asylum-seekers, which replaced the overcrowded Moria camp that was destroyed in fires last year.
While the coronavirus pandemic had shown that major challenges had to be confronted together and there were some signs of this happening on climate change, there was little sign of such an approach to migration, he said.
“It is easy to influence public opinion by instilling fear of the other,” Pope Francis said.
“The remote causes should be attacked, not the poor people who pay the consequences and are even used for political propaganda.”
This was a speech delivered in front of refugees but aimed squarely at political leaders across the European continent. The Pope’s words betrayed frustration at what he sees as the failure of politicians to adequately address the migrant issue.
His message of compassion for asylum seekers is not new but his language on Lesbos was exceptionally forthright.
Pope Francis was speaking against the backdrop of pushbacks of migrants at sea – including close to Lesbos – and on European land borders, as well as the erection of fences to prevent them reaching the EU.
Will his words make any difference? They certainly inject a powerfully compassionate element in a debate so often framed in the language of fear.
But there is very little political appetite in Europe to liberalise the migration system. Nor is there any sign of the kind of global political will to address the problems of conflict and extreme poverty which drive so many to flee their homes.
The number of people entering Europe reached a high point in 2015, when more than a million people fleeing the Syrian civil war and other crises made the journey.
Since then numbers have fallen as nations along migrant routes closed borders. The EU also agreed a deal to return failed asylum seekers to Turkey and has provided support for the Libyan coastguard to pick up people who set off to sea.
But the flow of people has not stopped, with 1,650 recorded by the International Organization for Migration as having gone missing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year.
Francis said he understood that there was a lot of “fatigue and frustration” over migration that had been exacerbated by the pandemic, but warned that without change there was a risk that civilization itself would find itself “shipwrecked”.
“Let us eradicate the prevailing mentality revolving around our ego and personal and national egoisms which determine every decision we take,” he said.
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, who was accompanying Francis, said the migration issue was the responsibility of all Europe, not just Greece.
Recently Pope Francis commented on a leaked EU document, accusing it of trying to ‘cancel Christmas’ and calling it a form of ‘ideological colonization.
‘Pope Francis pushed back against the European Commission’s internal guidelines, which have drawn fire for trying to “cancel Christmas,” likening these efforts to dictatorships as he warned against “ideological colonization.”
Internal communications of the European Commission were leaked last week by the Italian daily Il Giornale. The 30-page document, titled “Union of Equality,” advised members to “avoid assuming that everyone is Christian,” especially during the winter holidays.
It suggested members of the commission avoid using the word “Christmas” in favor of “holidays.” It also advised against using names “that are typically from one religion,” substituting “Maria and
The document also provided guidelines on how to address gender and sexual orientation, drawing criticism from Vatican representatives, far-right politicians and also the pope. The European Commission retracted the document last Thursday, calling it “a work in progress” and promising in a tweet to publish an “updated version.”
The document is “anachronistic,” Pope Francis said on Monday (Dec. 6) during a press conference aboard the papal flight returning from his four-day apostolic visit to Cyprus and Greece. “Throughout history many, many dictatorships tried to do it,” he added.
Francis said such efforts are the result of a “watered-down” approach to Christianity that has failed throughout history. “The European Union must take on the ideals of the founding fathers, which were ideals of unity, greatness, and be careful of not paving the road for ideological colonization,” he said, which risks dividing countries and could “make the European Union fail.”
During his historic visit to Greece, his second trip to the birthplace of democracy, Pope Francis focused on the need for Europe to return to its roots while avoiding the temptations of populism and nationalism. His words focused especially on the plight of migrants and refugees, urging European leaders to welcome and integrate religious, ethnic and cultural differences.
The pope issued a word of warning to European legislators to respect the differences of member countries. “Every country has its peculiarity, but every country is open to others,” he said, adding the sovereignty of Europe and the sovereignty of every member state is part of “a unity that respects the singularity of each country.”