During a visit to a welcoming center for migrants in Italy on Sunday, Pope Francis called on European lawmakers to support forcibly displaced people, while wearing a plastic ID bracelet used to identify refugees and migrants who do not have documents.
Located outside Bologna and home to roughly 1,000 asylum seekers, “The Hub” houses mostly people who crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Africa and the Middle East, according to Reuters. As Francis talked with refugees, he was seen wearing a plastic ID with his name “Papa Francis” and the number “3900003” given to him by an African refugee. In video footage released by The Vatican on Sunday, Francis slowly worked his way through throngs of smiling refugees who shook hands and took selfies. The pope also stood listening to one man serenading to him in English, “You are welcome in the name of the Lord.”
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“Many who don’t know you are afraid of you,” the pope said, according to Reuters. “That makes them think they have the right to judge (you) coldly and harshly.”
“In you, as in every stranger who knocks at our door, I see Jesus Christ, who identifies himself with the stranger of every age and condition, accepted or rejected,” he added. Pope Francis explained that he would like to see more countries support private and community support programs to help refugees, said refugees who are underage are “entitled to protection,” and called refugees “warriors of hope,” according to an English translation of his speech published on The Vatican’s website. Francis also reminded people that Bologna was the first city to free servants from slavery 760 years ago and praised the city for its hospitality towards refugees.
“I hope your hope doesn’t become delusion, or worse, desperation,” he added.
Francis, the son of Italian immigrants who left behind the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, has long used his pulpit to advocate for marginalized populations like refugees, migrants, asylum seekers, and other forcibly displaced people who are forced to permanently leave behind their home countries. At least 4,425 worldwide migrant deaths were recorded this year, according to United Nations data, with many dying while making the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Some are injured before they even get on boat. With the Libyan government in tumult, hundreds of people using the country’s ports as launching grounds to flee to Europe have been under attack by armed groups paid to stop migrant boats.
Last week, Francis launched a worldwide social campaign called “Share the Journey” that aims to allow people to advocate for refugees and migrants. Domestically, Francis has been especially vocal against European lawmakers and the U.S. president, who have all increasingly added obstacles for people to immigrate into their countries. Most recently, the pope criticized Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, which provided temporary deportation relief and work authorization for nearly 800,000 immigrants brought to the country as children.