One hundred and seventeen days after elevating to the papacy, Pope Francis took his first official trip outside the Vatican to visit the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa. An island closer to Tunisia than Sicily. An island that, since 1998, has been a transit point for migrants from North Africa and the Middle East.
Holding religious objects made from the wood of boats carrying migrants that had crashed against the island’s rocky shore, the Pope opened his homily with, “Immigrants dying at sea, in boats which were vehicles of hope and became vehicles of death.”
The Pope’s trip to Lampedusa, stripped of the pomp and circumstance of typical papal visits, was the first of many instances where he would draw the world’s attention to the plight of migrants.
In Lesbos on Sunday, Pope Francis “challenge[d] Europe to live up to its human rights ideals” when it comes to the plight of migrants, Harlan reported in another piece for The Post. “For many at the camp, sealed off from the outside world, their plight hidden, Francis’s visit punctured the bubble.”
Let’s take a step back.
There are approximately 1.34 billion Catholics in the world, making up 17.7% of the world’s population. And Catholics are growing in number on every continent — except Europe.
This means that as Europe continues to be the destination for Muslim migrants from North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, the religious makeup of the continent will begin to change. Changes that can be handled in one of two ways: Pope Francis’ message of welcome and compassion; or, the message of authoritarianism and xenophobia we have seen from Poland and Hungary.
In Crossing Borders, I write about how migration from Muslim regions into Europe is framed by authoritarians as an attack on religious liberty. In fact, in his book Sacred Liberty, Steven Waldman wrote that perceived attacks on religious liberty, “were frequently triggered by immigration.” And that, “They grew especially severe when the majority denomination felt its demographic dominance was slipping away.”
In order to stem the flow of migrants, as Pope Francis said in Lesbos, “We are in the age of walls and barbed wire.”
Anger and frustration at those who fear migrants is not the answer. “We can appreciate people’s fears and insecurities, the difficulties and dangers involved, and the general sense of fatigue and frustration, exacerbated by the economic and pandemic crises,” Pope Francis said.
“Yet problems are not resolved and coexistence improved by building walls higher, but by joining forces to care for others according to the concrete possibilities of each and in respect for the law, always giving primacy to the inalienable value of the life of every human being.”
The Pope’s moral leadership is as inspiring as it is reassuring. But the reconciliation of our nation of immigrants relies on all of us doing our part.
What I’m Reading
Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World. A brilliant explanation of how geography drives not just the political development of nations, but how they relate to each other and how and why people cross borders.
What I’ve Read
Can’t recommend Jia-Lynn Yang’s One Mighty and Irresistible Tide enough. Just a fantastic book that looks at the politics and policies of immigration between 1924 and 1965. Just fantastic.