ROME – A day after Europe hit the voting booths for the latest round of European Parliament elections, with the migrant crisis a major talking point, Pope Francis issued a message urging society to drop skepticism and prejudice towards newcomers, calling the attitudes racist.
In his May 27 message for the World Day for Migrants and Refugees, Francis said the migration issue is not just about migrants and refugees, but “it is also about our fears.”
“The signs of meanness we see around us heighten our fear of ‘the other,’ the unknown, the marginalized, the foreigner,” he said, noting that many migrants seeking a better future end up as the recipients of this meanness.
While some fear is normal and even legitimate, “the problem is not that we have doubts and fears,” he said. “The problem is when they condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even – without realizing it – racist.”
“In this way, fear deprives us of the desire and the ability to encounter the other, the person different from myself; it deprives me of an opportunity to encounter the Lord.”
Titled “It is not just about migrants,” the pope’s message comes ahead of the Sept. 29 World Day for Migrants and Refugees, which has been celebrated by the Catholic Church since 1914.
The message comes after Europeans voted for the 751 members of the EU Parliament that saw an increase in populist and liberal parties.
The election campaign highlighted migration and climate change – both major talking points for Francis.
Europe has been abuzz with debate over the migration issue since the crisis exploded in 2015, with nations arguing over which policies would best resolve the problem. Many countries have closed their borders in a bid to clamp down on the number of migrants entering, leaving many stranded.
In the pope’s own backyard, Italian deputy Prime Minister and head of the nation’s Lega party, Matteo Salvini, who has often jousted with the Vatican over his harsh anti-migration policies, came out on top in the weekend’s elections. Though his party didn’t win as many seats in the EU Parliament as expected, they still claimed 34 percent of the national vote.
During a campaign rally in Milan ahead of the elections, crowds booed when Salvini mentioned Francis, who has been a vocal advocate for migrants’ rights, demonstrating just how the migration issue has become a lightning rod between the Vatican and Salvini.
Following Sunday’s elections, the cover of Italian magazine L’Espresso featured an image of Francis as Zorro in opposition to Salvini, indicating the sparring isn’t likely to end any time soon.
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[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Elise Harris and originally published at Crux Now. Title changed by P&P.]
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