This article appeared one year ago in Nouvelles de Chrétienté, no. 169, and has not lost its newsworthiness. It describes the attitude of Pope Francis towards the migrant question. During his discourse at Rabat, [Morocco,] on March 30, 2019, the pope reprised and developed the title of his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees of January 14, 2019, to “Welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees.”
The papacy of Pope Francis is marked by the migratory question not only by the diverse messages that he has frequently devoted to it, but also through the creation of a new dicastery where he has kept for himself the directing of the section devoted to migrants.
On January 1, 2017, a dicastery for “Promoting Integral Human Development” was instituted under the direction of Peter Cardinal Turkson. It gathers together the jurisdictions of four pontifical councils: Justice and Peace, Cor Unum, Health, and Migrants. In an unprecedented step, the pope has removed the question of migrants from the prefect, to directly claim it for himself, thereby demonstrating the importance he has given it.
As Cyril Brun noted on the site InfoCatho on December 16, 2016, this decision shows that, in Francis’ eyes, migrants are a priority, but “on the other hand, it could as well marginalize non-migrants, i.e., other poor needing support, other distressed people, and it also gives the impression of dividing and impoverishing the universality of pontifical duties. Whatever our opinion is on this unprecedented step, it makes sense and it will assuredly have consequences for the migrants, for a fact, but also probably on whole sectors of the Church, even on ecclesiology.”
What the Pope Said
Among the many messages given by the pope in support of migrants one should remember that which he give for the 100th World Day of Migrants and Refugees on January 19, 2014, on the theme: “Migrants and Refugees: Towards a Better World.” One can read in it that the “culture of encounter” (as opposed by him to the “culture of rejection”) is “alone capable of building a more just and fraternal world, a better world.”
For that, Francis asks for, “the elimination of prejudices and presuppositions in the approach to migration. Not infrequently, the arrival of migrants, displaced persons, asylum-seekers and refugees gives rise to suspicion and hostility. There is a fear that society will become less secure, that identity and culture will be lost, that competition for jobs will become stiffer and even that criminal activity will increase.”
Francis neglects to mention that these are predominately Muslim immigrants who are not inclined to integrate and even less to convert. Nevertheless, according to him, this immigration is, “an occasion that Providence gives us to help build a more just society, a more perfect democracy, a more united country, a more fraternal world and a more open and evangelical Christian community. Migration can offer possibilities for a new evangelization, open vistas for the growth of a new humanity foreshadowed in the paschal mystery: a humanity for which every foreign country is a homeland and every homeland is a foreign country.”
To reach this ecumenical irenicism, the pope asks for a “change of attitude,” particularly in his discourse to the international forum on “Migration and Peace” on February 21, 2017: “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…for the Christian community, the peaceful integration of persons of various cultures is, in some way, a reflection of its catholicity, since unity, which does not nullify ethnic and cultural diversity, constitutes a part of the life of the Church, who in the Spirit of Pentecost is open to all and desires to embrace all.”
According to Francis, this welcoming of the stranger—what ever his religion—is justified by the principle of the “centrality of the human person” that one finds underlying the novelties promulgated by Vatican II: dignity of the human person, religious liberty, ecumenism, and interreligious dialogue. We read: “Today more than ever, it is necessary to affirm the centrality of the human person, without allowing immediate and ancillary circumstances, or even the necessary fulfilment of bureaucratic and administrative requirements, to obscure this essential dignity. As Saint John Paul II stated, an “irregular legal status cannot allow the migrant to lose his dignity, since he is endowed with inalienable rights, which can neither be violated nor ignored” (John Paul II, Message for World Migration Day, 25 July 1995, 2).
Immigration, Intercultural Enrichment for a "Better World"
In his last message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees on January 14, 2018, titled “Welcoming, protecting, promoting and integrating migrants and refugees,” Pope Francis emphasizes and gives the practical consequences for this notion of “the centrality of the human person,” by leaning on his predecessors’ declarations, “The principle of the centrality of the human person, firmly stated by my beloved Predecessor, Benedict XVI, (Cf. Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 47) obliges us to always prioritize personal safety over national security.”
This, according to him, concretely signifies “a determined effort to ensure that all migrants and refugees—as well as the communities which welcome them—are empowered to achieve their potential as human beings, in all the dimensions which constitute the humanity intended by the Creator (Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, no. 14). Among these, we must recognize the true value of the religious dimension, ensuring to all foreigners in any country the freedom of religious belief and practice.”
“The family’s integrity must always be promoted, supporting family reunifications—including grandparents, grandchildren and siblings—independent of financial requirements.”
“The final verb [in the title of the message] – integrating – concerns the opportunities for intercultural enrichment brought about by the presence of migrants and refugees. Integration is not ‘an assimilation that leads migrants to suppress or to forget their own cultural identity.’ Rather, contact with others leads to discovering their ‘secret,’ to being open to them in order to welcome their valid aspects and thus contribute to knowing each one better. This is a lengthy process that aims to shape societies and cultures, making them more and more a reflection of the multi-faceted gifts of God to human beings” (John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2005, November 24, 2004).