Saving lives must be first concern of immigration policy, pope says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Javier Etxezarreta, EPA

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The defense of the life, dignity and
human rights of migrants and refugees must come before any other question when
enacting migration policies, Pope Francis said.

“The defense of human beings knows no limits,” the
pope said in an interview with the journal of the Department for Civil
Liberties and Immigration of the Italian Ministry of the Interior.

“Those in power,” he said, “must be both
far-sighted and coherent in watchful respect for fundamental human rights, as
well as in trying to end the causes which force civilians to flee.”

Of course, he said, a safe and humane approach to handling
the current global migration crisis requires international cooperation and
policies that “respect both those who welcome and those who are

Newcomers must respect the laws of their host countries and be
assisted in integrating into the life of their new communities, he said in the
interview published April 7. And members of the receiving community must be educated
to understand the real causes of migration and the desperate situations of
those who feel forced to flee their homes.

The news media play a big role, Pope Francis said. They
should explain the human rights violations, violence, poverty and catastrophes
that lead so many people to flee.

But, especially, he said, the media must report responsibly
and not simply “indulge in negative stereotypes when talking about
migrants and refugees.”

“Just think of the unfair terms often used to describe
migrants and refugees,” the pope said. “How often do we hear people
talk of ‘illegals’ as a synonym for migrants? This is unfair. It is based on a
false premise, and it pushes public opinion toward negative judgments.”

Asked about his 2016 trip to refugee camps in Lesbos,
Greece, with leaders of the Orthodox Church, Pope Francis said it was a sign of
“fraternal responsibility.”

“We are all united in wanting to ensure a dignified
life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own
land,” the pope said. “There is no difference of creed that can
outweigh this wish — in fact, quite the contrary.”

Pope Francis said he wished the political leaders of every
nation would show the same kind of joint concern for “the cries of the
many innocents who ask only for a chance to save their own lives.”

As for anti-immigrant feelings and fears among some
Europeans, the pope urged people to remember what Europe was like after World
War II.

Millions of Europeans immigrated to South America or the
United States, he said. “It was not an easy experience for them, either.
They had the burden of being seen as foreigners, arriving from afar with no
knowledge of the local language.

“The process of integration wasn’t easy, but for the
most part it ended in success,” Pope Francis said.

Countries that have grown and thrived over the centuries by
accepting and integrating newcomers cannot forget that experience or pretend it
will not be repeated today, he said.

For example, “Europeans contributed greatly to the
growth of trans-Atlantic societies,” those in North and South America.
“This is always the case: Any exchange of culture and knowledge is a
source of wealth and should be valued as such.”

Members of the Catholic Church have an even greater
obligation to recognize the value of welcoming newcomers, Pope Francis said.
“We can see the peaceful integration of people from other cultures as a
kind of reflection of its Catholicism. A unity which accepts ethnic or cultural
diversity constitutes a dimension of church life, which in the spirit of
Pentecost is open to all — open to embracing everyone.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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