“In the light of the Latin American experience, I was able to affirm that ‘immigrants, if they are helped to integrate, are a blessing, a source of enrichment and new gift that encourages a society to grow’”, Pope Francis said on Thursday, citing from his encyclical ‘Fratelli tutti’.
He was speaking to some 200 participants in a conference promoted by the ‘Migrantes Foundation’, the pastoral ministry of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) for emigrants, immigrants and migrants. The November 9-12 conference in Rome is discussing the theme, “Italians in Europe and the Christian mission".
He reiterated the four steps of welcoming, accompanying, promoting and integrating migrants, failing which, he warned, could lead to serious problems. The 3 suicide bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2016, including at Zaventem Airport, he said, were carried out by children of non-integrated, ghettoized migrants.
The Pope said that migrants are also a blessing for Europe and its Churches. “If integrated, [migrants] can help breathe the air of a diversity that regenerates unity; they can nourish the face of catholicity; they can testify to the apostolicity of the Church; they can generate stories of holiness.”
As a case in point, he pointed to Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, who in 1946 became the first United States citizen to be canonized by the Church. The Italian-born nun founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to care for her fellow Italian immigrants in the US.
The Pope noted that the theme of the conference points to the pastoral concern and missionary spirit related to Italian mobility in Europe, which can be a leaven of the new evangelization. In this regard, he shared three reflections.
The first concerns reading the phenomenon of mobility or migration as “we.” He said, “We often see migrants only as 'other' from us, as strangers,” when in reality migrants are a significant part of 'us,' people close to us - our families, our young students, graduates, unemployed, our entrepreneurs." According to Bishop Geremia Bonomelli of Cremona, who in 1900 began a ministry to help Italian abroad, the Italian migration is like "Daughter Italy" travelling in Europe and in the world. The Argentine Pope said, “It is a reality that I feel particularly close to, as my family also emigrated to Argentina" from Italy.
The second reflection of Pope Francis on migration concerns Europe as a common home. He said the Church in Europe cannot fail to consider the millions of Italian and foreign emigrants who are renewing the faces of cities and countries, nourishing "the dream of a united Europe, capable of recognizing common roots and rejoicing in the diversity that inhabits it." He urged that this “beautiful mosaic” should “not be scarred or corrupted with prejudices or hatred veiled in respectability,” saying “Europe is called to revitalize its vocation to solidarity in subsidiarity today.”
Thirdly, the Holy Father pointed to the contribution and testimony of faith of communities of Italian emigrants in European countries. Through their deep-rooted popular religiosity, they communicated the joy of the Gospel and made visible the beauty of being open and welcoming communities by sharing the paths of the local Christian communities. “How can we not think,” he said, “of our emigrated grandparents and their ability to be generative also in terms of the Christian life?” He added, “It is a legacy to be preserved and cared for, finding ways that allow us to revitalize the proclamation and witness of faith.”
This, the Pope said, depends a lot on the dialogue between generations: especially between grandparents and grandchildren. "Though young Italians today are very different, in terms of faith, from their grandparents," he noted that in general, "they are very attached to them." He said it is crucial that young Italians remain attached to their roots while living in other European contexts, and draw the sap of human and spiritual values from their grandparents. In this regard, "the expressions of popular piety have a lot to teach us,” especially in view of the new evangelization.
Pope Francis also said that “migrations have accompanied and can support, through encounters, relationships, and friendship, the ecumenical journey" in the various European countries where the faithful mostly belong to Reformed or Orthodox communities. He expressed satisfaction that the synodal process of churches in Italy aims to consider migrants as an important resource for the renewal and mission of the Churches in Europe. Young people in emigration, who are often disoriented and alone, he said, want to see a Church — and its pastors — that is attentive and walks with and among them.
Pope Francis encouraged members of the Migrantes Foundation in their commitment to thinking creatively about "a mission that looks to the future of our communities, so that they may be more and more rooted in the Gospel, fraternal and welcoming."