Pope Francis urges EU to help and welcome refugees

Pope Francis delivers his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Picture: Reuters
Pope Francis delivers his speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Picture: Reuters
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Pope Francis has urged European leaders to craft a unified and fair immigration policy, saying that the tens of thousands of refugees coming ashore each year need acceptance and assistance, not self-interested policies which risk lives and fuel social conflict.

Francis made the comments to the European Parliament during a visit intended to highlight his vision for Europe, a quarter-century after Pope John Paul II travelled to Strasbourg to address the European Parliament in 1988.

Greeted with polite applause at the start of his speech and a standing ovation at its finish, Francis said he wanted to bring a message of hope to Europeans distrustful of their institutions, burdened by economic crisis and spiritually adrift in a culture that he said no longer values the dignity of human beings.

“A Europe which is no longer open to the transcendent dimension of life is a Europe which risks slowly losing its own soul,” he said.

In a speech that touched on some of his major priorities as pope – the elderly, the poor and the environment – Pope Francis called for legislators to promote policies that create jobs and accept immigrants.

“We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery,” he said.

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The Argentine has frequently spoken out about the plight of migrants seeking a better life in Europe. He travelled to the tiny island of Lampedusa in the summer of 2013 to show solidarity with the migrants who arrive there and to honour those who have died trying – a number that Italian officials estimate to be more than 2,000 in 2014 alone.

Italy, home of the Vatican, has borne the brunt of the burden of rescuing the migrants, although recently the European Union’s border agency stepped in to help. Pope Francis warned that the absence of a coherent EU migration policy “contributes to slave labour and continuing social tensions”.

He called for legislation which ensures immigrants are accepted and to adopt “fair, courageous and realistic policies” toward their countries of origin, to help them resolve the conflicts that fuel migration “rather than adopting policies motivated by self-interest, which increase and feed such conflicts”.

The most sustained applause came when he spoke about “barbaric violence” against Christians in much of the world amid “the shameful and complicit silence of many”. Legislators also applauded when he spoke about the dignity of work and how it is “intolerable” that so many die of hunger when tonnes of food are thrown away each day.

Parliament President Martin Schulz told Pope Francis: “You are a person who gives us guidance at a time when we have lost our compass.”

Many of Strasbourg’s Catholics were upset that the Pope did not meet with them or visit the city’s cathedral during his four-hour trip – the shortest made by any Pope abroad.

The Pope also used his visit to call for the creation of jobs and better conditions for workers.

He spoke of a need to reinvigorate Europe, describing the continent as “a grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant” and saying: “The great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions.”

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