On his return flight from Lesbos, Greece to Rome, on 16 April, Pope Francis spoke to media about the refugee crisis, the global immigration crisis, and of the 12 Syrian refugees he brought along with him to Rome.
Pope Francis: I thank you for your day of work; it was a bit powerful (in Italian it means emotionally charging), for me and also for you.
Ines San Martin: This trip is happening just after the accord between the European Union and Turkey…What led you to such a decision?
• First of all, there is no political speculation because I don’t know much about these accords between Turkey and Europe. I saw them in the newspapers. Bringing these refugees away is a humanitarian thing. It was an inspiration I received a week ago that I immediately accepted, because I saw that it was the Holy Spirit who was speaking. Everything was done legally. They’ve come with us with their documents in order. The Vatican, Italy and Greece have given them a visa. They will be welcomed by the Vatican with the collaboration of Sant’Egidio who will find work for them. But they are guests of the Vatican and they are added to the two Syrian families that are already given hospitality by the two Vatican parishes.
Franca Giansoldati: You speak much about welcoming, perhaps too little about integration. There’s a massive influx of immigrants in Europe. We see, many cities suffer from ghetto sectors… it emerges that Muslim immigrants are those who have the most difficult time integrating themselves with Western values… wouldn’t it be more useful to favour the immigration of Christian immigrants? Why did you favour three Muslim families?
• I didn’t make a religious choice between Christians and Muslims. These three families had their documents in order. There were, for example, two Christian families who didn’t. This is not a privilege. All 12 of them are children of God. It’s a privilege to be a child of God. For what regards integration…you said a word which in current culture seems to be forgotten, but do exist after war: the ghettos. And some of the terrorists are children and grandchildren of people born in European countries and what has happened? There was no policy of integration. And this, for me, is fundamental. In the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, integration is spoken of. One of the three pastoral dimensions for families in difficulty is integration into society. Today, Europe must take up again this capacity that it has always had: to integrate. With integration, Europe’s culture is enriched. I think we need an education, a lesson, on the culture of integration.
Elena Pinardi: There is talk about reinforcing the borders of different European countries, of deploying battalions along the borders of Europe. Is it the end of the European dream?
• I don’t know. I understand there is certain fear in the governments and the people. But, we must take a real responsibility for welcoming. How do we integrate these people with us? I’ve said this, making walls is not the solution. We saw it in the last century, the fall of one. Walls don’t resolve anything. We must make bridges. Bridges are made with intelligence, dialogue, integration. I understand the fear, but to close the borders doesn’t resolve anything. Because in the long run, that closure will hurt the people themselves.
Europe must make a policy of welcome, integration, growth, work, the reform of the economy. All of these are the bridges that lead us to not make walls. What I’ve seen in that refugee camp, and what you saw, are to cry about. The kids. They’ve given me so many drawings. The children want peace because they’re suffering. It’s true that there they have educational courses in the camp. What have they seen? Look at this: a drowned child! The kids have got this in their hearts. Today was truly to cry about. It was to cry about. The same drawing was made by an Afghan child. These children have this in their memories. They’ll need time to remove this from their memories. Among them was a drawing where the sun was crying. A tear would do well to us as well.
Fanny Carrier: Why don’t you make a distinction between those who flee because of war and those who flee because of hunger? Can Europe give welcome to the misery of the world?
• It’s true. Some run because of war, others because of hunger. Together the two are both the effects of the exploitation of the earth. A head of government in Africa told me more or less a month ago that he was reforesting, because the land that was exploited was dead. Yes, some run because of hunger, others because of war. I would invite the arms producers and traffickers, those who sell them to make war in different places – in Syria for example – I would tell them to spend a day in that refugee camp, I think it would do good to them.
Nestor Pongutà: You said something very special this morning that really caught our attention: this is a sad trip (we understood from your words that you were really moved). But, something changed in your heart when we found out about these 12 people. With this little gesture, were you giving a lesson to those who have turned their gaze away from so much pain, faced with this “piecemeal third world war?”
• I will respond with a phrase that is not mine. Someone asked Mother Teresa the same thing. They told her: “You spend so much strength, so much work, to help people to die, but what you do is not worth it.” She replied: “It’s a drop, it’s a drop of water in the sea, but after that drop, the sea will never be the same.” It’s possible like this. Such small acts we all must do in order to take the hand of those in need.
Josh McElwee: We’ve gone to a nation of migration, but also of an economic policy of austerity. Do you have an economic thought of austerity also for another island, Puerto Rico? What do you think of the policy of austerity?
• The word austerity means, from an economic point of view, the chapter of a program. It means different politically and spiritually. When I speak, I do so in comparison with waste. The FAO, it seems to me, in a meeting said that with one wasted meal, you could nourish the world. And we, in our homes, how much do we waste without intending to? This is culture of waste. Austerity in the sense in which we speak and austerity in a Christian sense, let’s stop here and make a bit of distinction. I speak only in a Christian sense.
Francisco Romero: You have said that this refugee crisis is the worst after the Second World War. I would like to ask you what you think of the crises of migrants that arrive in America, in the United States, from Mexico, from Latin America…?
• It’s the same thing. Migrants arrive there fleeing from hunger, etc. It’s the same problem. In Mexico, I celebrated Mass 100 meters from the border, where on the one side there were about 50 bishops from the U.S. and 50,000 faithful in one stadium. It’s the same. They arrive to Mexico from Central America. It’s a global problem. I spoke about it there to the Mexican bishops, asking them to take care of the refugees.
Frank Rocca: My question is about your latest apostolic exhortation…There has been much discussion after its publication. Some sustain that nothing has changed with respect to the discipline that regulates access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried… Others sustain that much has changed and that there are new openings… For a Catholic who wants to know: are there new, concrete possibilities that didn’t exist before the publication of the exhortation or not?
• I can say yes. But it would be an answer that is too small. I recommend that you read the presentation of Cardinal Schonborn, who is a great theologian. He was the secretary for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and he knows the doctrine of the faith well. In that presentation, your question will find an answer.
Jean-Marie Guenois: You wrote this famous ‘Amoris Laetitia’ on the problems of the divorced and remarried (footnote 351). Why put something so important in a little note? Did you foresee the opposition or did you mean to say that this point isn’t that important?
• One of the recent popes, speaking of the Council, said that there were two councils: the II Vatican Council in the Basilica of St. Peter, and the other, the council of the media. When I convoked the first synod, the great concern of the majority of the media was communion for the divorced and remarried. Since I am not a saint, this bothered me, and then made me sad. Because, thinking of those media who said, this, this and that and do you not realize that that is not the important problem?
Don’t you realize that, instead, the family throughout the world is in crisis? Don’t we realize that the falling birth rate in Europe is enough to make one cry? And the family is the basis of society. Do you not realize that the youth don’t want to marry? Don’t you realize that the lack of work or the little work (available) means that a mother has to get two jobs and the children grow up alone? These are the big problems. I don’t remember the footnote, but for sure if it’s something general in a footnote, it’s because I spoke about it, I think, in ‘Evangelii Gaudium.’
Thanks a lot, I feel good with you.