If the shoe fits: Papal remarks on immigration apply to U.S., too

IMAGE: CNS/Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — When Pope Francis affirms basic
Christian principles, he is not singling out one person or nation, but he
definitely is not excluding them either.

The ongoing global migration and refugee crisis is a case in

The United States is not the only country engaged in a
heated political debate over immigration policy with often opposing voices
focusing on: ensuring the country’s security; regulating numbers based on the
resources available to resettle them; or living up to an ethical obligation — and
often a legal one, according to international treaties — to shelter people
fleeing violence and persecution and to welcome those seeking a more dignified
life for themselves and their families.

While the pope’s remarks on welcoming migrants and refugees cannot
be read as focused on the U.S. debate, one also cannot pretend they have
nothing to do with it.

The new Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for
Promoting Integral Human Development “regularly informs the Holy Father
about events that touch on the issue of migration, including the current debate
underway in the United States of America,” Scalabrinian Father Fabio Baggio, undersecretary of
the office, told Catholic News Service Feb. 22.

Pope Francis, he said, supports the position expressed by
the U.S. bishops, which emphasizes openness to newcomers and a comprehensive
reform of U.S. immigration policy.

The bishops, like Pope Francis, have never denied the right
and duty of governments to regulate immigration. But, in many cases, Pope
Francis sees something much less noble — selfishness — behind much of the
anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“Faced with this kind of rejection, rooted ultimately
in self-centeredness and amplified by populist rhetoric, what is needed is a
change of attitude, to overcome indifference and to counter fears with a
generous approach of welcoming those who knock at our doors,” the pope
said Feb. 21 in a speech.

Days before making that speech to participants in the
International Forum on Migration and Peace, Pope Francis already had hit a
nerve on the migration issue with his Twitter account.

“How often in the Bible the Lord asks us to welcome
migrants and foreigners, reminding us that we too are foreigners!” he
tweeted Feb. 18.

For the first time in at least a year, more than 3,000
people commented on the pope’s tweet in English, six times the normal comment
rate. By Feb. 22, the tweet also had racked up more than 64,000 retweets and
some 160,000 likes.

Many of the comments on his reminder of the Biblical
obligation to welcome the stranger were not favorable, running the gamut from
instructing the pope to “back off” and stay out of politics to asking
him how many migrants and refugees the Vatican has welcomed.

The @Pontifex Twitter account does not reply to comments.
But Pope Francis has responded to similar comments in the past, pointing out
that living the Gospel in the real world often will have political or social
consequences. And he has, in fact, taken in refugees.

While Pope Francis and the Vatican are providing food,
shelter and support to some 30 refugees — mostly Syrians, but also a family
from Eritrea — “you cannot calculate the Catholic Church’s welcoming of
migrants simply by counting how many asylum seekers are hosted by the Vatican,
a state with 572 citizens, of whom only 444 are residents,” Father Baggio
said. “The pope leads a church that goes beyond every national boundary
and works on behalf of millions of migrants and refugees around the world, in
many cases filling the gaps left by the institutions charged with caring for

While the pope’s comments and actions have a political
impact, he is not trying to dictate a country’s immigration regulations.

“The pope gives a broad baseline of what should guide
and animate immigration policy, then as he has said, every country must mold
and articulate these indications for its own situation,” Cardinal Pietro
Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, told reporters Feb. 21. “But,
certainly, the basic dimension must be that of welcoming. Welcoming is the only
Christian attitude, an attitude that also is fundamentally the humane

Nations, he said, must do everything possible to save human
lives and protect human dignity, which means accepting asylum seekers and creating
channels for legal immigration.

When talking about migration, Father Baggio said, Pope
Francis knows countries must “evaluate, on the basis of real data, the
impact welcoming migrants will have on the common good they must seek for their

But, he pointed out, “historically when faced with
serious human tragedies, great countries never turned their backs (on people
fleeing), and their commitment to solidarity always abundantly repaid their
small sacrifices.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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