Pope Francis gestures as he talks during a Feb. 17 meeting at Roma Tre University. CNS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

Integration key to quelling fear of migrants, Pope Francis says

By  Elise Harris, CNA/EWTN News
  • February 17, 2017

VATICAN CITY – On Friday Pope Francis paid a visit to Rome’s Roma Tre university, stressing to students the importance of dialogue, listening and integration in putting an end to the fear that can at times be generated in the face of welcoming new migrants.

“Migrations are not a danger, they are a challenge to grow,” the Pope said Feb. 17, adding that “it’s important to think well about the problem of migrants today, because there’s a migratory phenomenon that’s so strong.”

“How must migrants be received? How must they be welcomed?” he asked, stressing that first, they must be viewed “as human brothers and sisters. They are men and women like us.”

Second, “every country must see how many they are able to welcome,” he said, noting that while it’s true that a country shouldn’t take on more than they have the capacity to handle, each one must play their part.

However, part of welcoming, he said, means “to integrate. That is, to receive these people and try to integrate them so they can learn the language, look for a job, a house, integration.”

After arriving and greeting the rector of the university, Professor Mario Panizza, as well as the university’s General Director and Vice Rector, the Pope listened and answered questions posed by four students. One of the questions was posed by Nour Essa, a Syrian refugee who fled to Lesbos with her husband and young son.

After spending a month in a refugee camp, Essa and her husband were selected to be among the 12 refugees who flew back to Rome with Pope Francis after his April 16, 2016, visit to the island. Now, almost a year later, Essa has learned Italian and is completing her studies in Agriculture and Microbiology. She asked the Pope how to overcome the fear that welcoming so many migrants into Europe will destroy its cultural identity.

In his response, the Pope stressed the importance of accompanying new migrants in a process of integration, and pointed to the fact that within three days of arriving in Italy, the children who came back with him from Lesbos were already in school.

When three months later he invited 21 Syrian children to join him for lunch at the Vatican, they all “spoke Italian,” Francis said. “The older ones a bit less, but they all spoke it. They went to school and learned it. This is integration.”

He noted that the majority of migrants who came back that day have both a job and a person to help them integrate into the culture by providing “open doors” to find work, school and housing, voicing his desire for more organizations dedicated to helping in the process of integration.

On the point of the fear of losing one’s cultural identity by welcoming so many migrants, the Pope said he often asks himself “how many invasions has Europe had since the beginning? Europe was made from invasions, migrants...it was made like this in an artisanal way.”

Migrants, he said, bring their own culture which is “a richness for us,” but must also receive part of the culture they come to so that a real “exchange of cultures” takes place.

“Yes, there is fear, but the fear is not only of migrants,” but of those who commit crimes, he said, and, pointing to the bombing of an airport and subway in Belgium last year, noted that the persons who carried out the attacks “were Belgians, born in Belgium.”

They were the children of migrants, but migrants that had been “ghettoized,” rather than integrated, he said, explaining that fostering respect for one another can “take away” this fear of different cultures.

(Story from the Catholic News Agency)

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