By Elise Harris
Jan 11, 2016
Vatican City, Jan 11, 2016 / 07:05 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday Pope Francis gave his first major speech of the year to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, focusing on the hot-button topic of migration and the need to find dignified solutions to the problem.
While the increasing number of migrants certainly poses a challenge, Francis said that the basic human dignity of those seeking a better life shouldn’t be overshadowed by the problems that come with them.
“Over the past year Europe has witnessed a great wave of refugees – many of whom died in the attempt – a wave unprecedented in recent history, not even after the end of the Second World War,” the Pope told diplomats Jan. 11.
Migrants coming from Asia and Africa see Europe as “a beacon” for principles such as equality before the law as well as for values “inherent in human nature,” like the recognition dignity and equality of each person, respect for others regardless of origin or affiliation, freedom of conscience and solidarity, he said.
The Pope acknowledged that the massive number of arrivals on European shores “appear to be overburdening the system of reception painstakingly built on the ashes of the Second World War.”
“Given the immense influx and the inevitable problems it creates, a number of questions have be raised” about what is realistically possible in terms of accepting and accommodating so many people.
Along with these questions come concerns regarding changes in the cultural and social structures of the countries who receive migrants, as well as the reshaping “of certain regional geopolitical balances,” he said.
Fears about safety and security are “exacerbated” by the growing threat of terrorism, Francis observed, explaining that the wave of migration appears to be “undermining the foundations of that humanistic spirit which Europe has always loved and defended.”
However, in the midst of so many challenges and concerns, Pope Francis said that the basic principles of dignity and respect shouldn’t be forgotten.
“There should be no loss of the values and principles of humanity, respect for the dignity of every person, mutual subsidiarity and solidarity, however much they may prove, in some moments of history, a burden difficult to bear,” he said.
Francis then reaffirmed his conviction that Europe “has the means to defend the centrality of the human person and to find the right balance between its twofold moral responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens and to ensure assistance and acceptance to migrants.”
Pope Francis spoke to the Diplomatic Corps Accredited to the Holy See as part of his traditional exchange of New Year’s greetings with the diplomats. There are currently 180 ambassadors of other countries to the Holy See, 86 of whom reside in Rome.
An annual occurrence, the Pope’s speech to diplomats is one of the most important that he gives at the beginning of the year just begun, and sets the Holy See’s diplomatic tone for the rest of the year.
In his lengthy speech, Francis pointed to several important agreements of 2015, in particular to two fiscal agreements reached with Italy and the United States, as well as the Holy See’s agreement with the State of Palestine, which recently went into effect.
He then recapped his five apostolic voyages to Sri Lanka and the Philippines; Bosnia and Herzegovina; his tour of South America, which took him to Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay; Cuba and the United States, and his recent visit to Africa.
Family was also a major theme for 2015, he noted, adding that it is “the first and most important school of mercy, in which we learn to see God’s loving face and to mature and develop as human beings.”
However, he warned that the family is being “threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.”
Today there is “a widespread fear of the definitive commitment demanded by the family,” he said, explaining that and that those who pay the price “are the young, who are often vulnerable and uncertain, and the elderly, who end up being neglected and abandoned.”
Francis also cautioned the diplomats of developing an individualistic attitude, which he said “is fertile soil for the growth of that kind of indifference towards our neighbors which leads to viewing them in purely economic terms.”
The lack of concern for their humanity, he said, ultimately leads to feelings of “fear and cynicism,” and noted that this is the attitude frequently adopted toward society’s poor and marginalized populations.
A prime example of these persons are migrants, who “with their burden of hardship and suffering” daily search for a place to live in peace and dignity, “often in desperation,” he said.
Regarding the “grave crisis of migration” the world is currently facing, Francis noted that in 2015 it most heavily impacted Europe, as well as certain regions of Asia and North and Central America.
He turned to the Bible, explaining that the issue of migration is nothing new, but is in fact a key element throughout all of scripture. The Bible as a whole, he said, recounts the history “of a humanity on the move, for mobility is part of our human nature.”
“Human history is made up of countless migrations, sometimes out of an awareness of the right to choose freely, and often dictated by external circumstances,” he observed.
The Pope then decried “the arrogance of the powerful” who exploit the weak, forced to leave their homes, “reducing them to means for their own ends or for strategic and political schemes.”
“Where regular migration is impossible, migrants are often forced to turn to human traffickers or smugglers, even though they are aware that in the course of their journey they may well lose their possessions, their dignity and even their lives,” he lamented.
Francis again repeated his frequent appeal for an end to human trafficking, saying that “the image of all those children who died at sea, victims of human callousness and harsh weather, will remain forever imprinted on our minds and hearts.”
“Those who survive and reach a country which accepts them bear the deep and indelible scars of these experiences, in addition to those left by the atrocities which always accompany wars and violence.”
Among these people, he noted, are many Christians abandoned their homelands by the thousands over the past few years, despite the fact that they have been there since the earliest days of Christianity.
Many migrants would willingly stay in their homeland if they were able to find security and sustenance, he noted, and pointed specifically to Christians in the Middle East as examples.
Pope Francis lamented the fact that many of the root causes behind today’s migration crisis “could have been addressed some time ago,” and “so many disasters could have been prevented, or at least their harshest effects mitigated” had there been the will by those in power.
He encouraged the diplomats to make efforts in building peace, but said that doing so would mean “rethinking entrenched habits and practices,” beginning with the arms trade, financing and sustainable development policies, the provision of raw materials and energy, investment, as well as “the grave scourge of corruption.”
Both short-term and long-term planning is needed in order to find solutions, he observed, saying such plans shouldn’t be limited to just “emergency responses.”
Francis also pointed to the role of religious affiliation in the migration issue. Both extremism and fundamentalism, he said, “find fertile soil not only in the exploitation of religion for purposes of power but also in the vacuum of ideals and the loss of identity – including religious identity – which dramatically marks the so-called West.”
“This vacuum gives rise to the fear which leads to seeing the other as a threat and an enemy, to closed-mindedness and intransigence in defending preconceived notions,” he said.
The phenomenon of migration raises what the Pope called a “serious cultural issue” that demands a response.
Accepting migrants provides an opportunity to broaden the horizons of both the people who come, as well as the countries who receive them, he said.
Those who are accepted into a new society “have the responsibility to respect the values, traditions and laws of the community which takes them in,” while those who welcome them “are called to acknowledge the beneficial contribution which each immigrant can make to the whole community,” the Pope affirmed.
He then pointed to several “important international agreements” that took place in 2015, which he said “give solid hope for the future.”
Specifically, Francis mentioned the Iran nuclear deal, “which I hope will contribute to creating a climate of détente in the region,” and the climate agreement reached at the recent summit in Paris.
“It is now essential that those commitments prove more than simply a good intention, but rather a genuine duty incumbent on all states to do whatever is needed to safeguard our beloved earth for the sake of all mankind, especially generations yet to come,” he said.
Francis then stressed that the role of the international community is “of fundamental importance” in ending global conflicts, such as those in Burundi, the Democratic Repuclic of the Congo, South Sudan and Ukraine.
“The support which the international community, individual states and humanitarian organizations can offer the country from a number of standpoints, in order to surmount the present crisis,” is essential, he said.
Francis closed his speech by affirming that the Holy See will never cease to work for peace on a diplomatic level, and encouraged further cooperation.
He expressed his hope that the Jubilee of Mercy will be “a favorable occasion for the cold indifference of so many hearts to be won over by the warmth of mercy, that precious gift of God which turns fear into love and makes us artisans of peace.”