Pope Francis spoke at a conference on immigration on Thursday sponsored by the Migrantes Foundation, and used the opportunity to contend that efforts must be made to help integrate migrants, who he views as a blessing.
“If we do not achieve integration,” he said, “there may be problems, and serious ones.”
Pope Francis recalled the 2016 suicide bombing attacks in Brussels, Belgium, as an example of what can happen when integration is not achieved. “Those who did this were Belgians,” he said, “but the children of migrants who were not integrated, who were ghettoized.”
Thirty-two people were killed in those attacks by three suicide bombers who had connections to both Morocco and Belgium.
The pope’s remarks are a reminder that his position on immigration is not as simple as promoting more porous borders and increased diversity. He has consistently called for striking a balance of achieving unity without discounting differences, once saying that citizens should “unify differences without imposing depersonalized uniformity.” (READ MORE: Biden Claims Pope Francis Told Him He Can Receive Communion)
European countries have been making some moves to better integrate their immigrants. In Germany, lawmakers adopted a National Action Plan on Integration in March which creates a five-stage integration process for new migrants that begins before they even arrive. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the plan would help “turn coexistence into togetherness.”
Similarly, Norway has made cultural awareness courses compulsory for immigrants.
The pope famously sparred with then-candidate Donald Trump over immigration in 2016. In reference to Trump, Francis said, “A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”
At his speech Thursday, the 84-year-old pope pointed to four steps those in a country should follow in response to immigrants: “welcome, accompany, promote, and integrate.”
The pope argued that when integrated, migrants can bring about unity and holiness.
“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,” he said.
The pontiff quoted from Fratelli tutti, his encyclical on fraternity and social friendship, to elaborate on this point.
“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.’”
The pope has made advocating for migrants one of the central themes of his pontificate, calling on people to no longer think “in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those,’ but only ‘us.’”
Francis promoted on Thursday his dream set forth in Fratelli tutti “of a united Europe, capable of acknowledging its shared roots and rejoicing in its rich diversity.”
As the pope spoke, the immigration crisis on the border between Poland and Belarus raged, with thousands of migrants at the border trying to enter Poland. The European Union has accused Belarus of launching a “hybrid attack” with the migrants by bringing them into their country on tourist visas and then encouraging them to cross into Poland. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko threatened to halt the natural gas that flows through his country if additional sanctions are imposed.
The EU is taking a much stronger stance against immigration in response to the crisis, and is considering financing fences to stop the migrants from coming in.