VATICAN CITY: On Sunday, Pope Francis made a fervent and impassioned defence of migrants, calling their exclusion “scandalous, disgusting and sinful,” outrightly opposing Italy’s soon-to-be-installed right-wing administration headed by Giorgia Meloni.
The head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City, Pope Francis, has previously expressed overwhelming support for the migrants and incorporated it as a major theme of his pontificate. The Pope expressed his sympathy for the migrant crisis in a public ceremony before 50,000 people in St Peter’s Square.
“It is scandalous to exclude migrants. Exclusion of migrants is, indeed, criminal. It causes them to die in front of our eyes,” He stated.
“As a result, the Mediterranean has become the world’s largest cemetery,” he said, referring to the thousands of people who have drowned trying to reach Europe.
“Exclusion of migrants is disgusting and sinful. It is a crime not to open doors to those in need,” He stated.
Giorgia Meloni, who is expected to assume office as prime minister later this month, stands at the helm of a strong right-wing coalition that has voted to impose strict sanctions on immigration and further tightens surveillance and security at Italy’s borders.
Moreover, as part of her election campaign agenda, Meloni has promised rapid repatriations and tighter asylum rules. She has also urged a naval blockade of North Africa to hinder migrants from sailing and for renewed restrictions on charity rescue ships.
Pope Francis, however, did not explicitly mention Italy Meloni’s agenda in his address. He did highlight how some migrants were treated poorly once caught trying to cross the borders. The ones caught were deported after being detained in “concentration camps where they are exploited and treated as slaves.” A similar trajectory has also occurred in Libya, he added.
Meloni’s migrant crisis response also became a hot controversial topic bordering on racism. Papa Mamkeur Wade, from Senegal, had waited 11 years before finally receiving an Italian residency permit in July that allows for legal employment, which he feared would be rejected by the new government.
Papa Wade said that Italy is hypocritical when it comes to its immigration policy. While Ukrainians feeling the crisis at home spurned by Putin’s “special military operation” were welcome in Italy, those incoming from South Africa found themselves at the bottom of the list, “the last in the queue.”
“People die in African wars, but (in Europe) they don’t see it. We are invisible,” he added.
Meloni has called the Ukrainians “real refugees”, telling parliament in March that the government should “take advantage of the moment” and expel all “illegal migrants”.
Meanwhile, the Pope, who generally addressed a mass gathering with a scripted speech, went off script about migrants at the point when he mentioned two famous new saints- Bishop Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, who lived between 1839 and 1905.
Scalabrini established two religious orders- one of the priests and one of the nuns- to help Italian immigrants who travelled to the United States and South America.
The other new saint is Artemides Zatti, who lived between 1880 and 1951. His family fled poverty in Italy and settled in Argentina. As a lay member of the Salesian religious faith, he laboured as a nurse, bringing healthcare to the poor on his bicycle.