5 December 2021 | Apostolic Journey


"Reception and Identification Centre" in Mytilene

Dear brothers and sisters,
Thank you for your kind words. I am grateful to you, Madam President, for your
presence and your words. Sisters and brothers, I am here once again, to meet
you and to assure you of my closeness. I say it from the heart. I am here to see
your faces and look into your eyes. Eyes full of fear and expectancy, eyes that
have seen violence and poverty, eyes streaked by too many tears. Five years
ago on this island, the Ecumenical Patriarch, my dear brother Bartholomew, said
something that struck me: “Those who are afraid of you have not looked you in
the eye. Those who are afraid of you have not seen your faces. Those who fear
you have not seen your children. They have forgotten that dignity and freedom
transcend fear and division. They have forgotten that migration is not an issue
for the Middle East and Northern Africa, for Europe and Greece. It is an issue for
the world” (Address, 16 April 2016).
It is an issue for the whole world: a humanitarian crisis that concerns everyone.
The pandemic has had a global impact; it has made us realize that we are all on
the same boat; it has made us experience what it means to have identical fears.
We have come to understand that the great issues must be faced together, since
in today’s world piecemeal solutions are inadequate. Yet while we are working to
vaccinate people worldwide and, despite many delays and hesitations, progress
is being made in the fight against climate change, all this seems to be terribly
absent when it comes to migration. Yet human lives, real people, are at stake!
The future of us all is at stake, and that future will be peaceful only if it is
integrated. Only if it is reconciled with the most vulnerable will the future be
prosperous. When we reject the poor, we reject peace.
History teaches us that narrow self-interest and nationalism lead to disastrous
consequences. Indeed, as the Second Vatican Council observed, “a firm
determination to respect the dignity of other individuals and peoples along with
the deliberate practice of fraternal love are absolutely necessary for the
achievement of peace” (Gaudium et Spes, 78). It is an illusion to think it is
enough to keep ourselves safe, to defend ourselves from those in greater need
who knock at our door. In the future, we will have more and more contact with
others. To turn it to the good, what is needed are not unilateral actions but
wide-ranging policies. Let me repeat: history teaches this lesson, yet we have
not learned it. Let us stop ignoring reality, stop constantly shifting responsibility,
stop passing off the issue of migration to others, as if it mattered to no one and
was only a pointless burden to be shouldered by somebody else!
Sisters and brothers, your faces and your eyes beg us not to look the other way,
not to deny our common humanity, but make your experiences our own and to
be mindful of your dramatic plight. Elie Wiesel, a witness to the greatest tragedy
of the last century, wrote: “It is because I remember our common beginning that
I move closer to my fellow human beings. It is because I refuse to forget that
their future is as important as my own” (From the Kingdom of Memory,
Reminiscences, New York, 1990, 10). On this Sunday, I ask God to rouse us
from our disregard for those who are suffering, to shake us from an
individualism that excludes others, to awaken hearts that are deaf to the needs
of our neighbours. I ask every man and woman, all of us, to overcome the
paralysis of fear, the indifference that kills, the cynical disregard that
nonchalantly condemns to death those on the fringes! Let us combat at its root
the dominant mindset that revolves around ourselves, our self-interest, personal
and national, and becomes the measure and criterion of everything.
Five years have passed since I visited this place with my dear brothers
Bartholomew and Ieronymos. After all this time, we see that little has changed
with regard to the issue of migration. To be sure, many people have committed
themselves to the work of welcoming and integrating. I want to thank the many
volunteers and all those at every level – institutional, social, charitable and
political – who have made great efforts to care for individuals and to address the
issue of migration. I also acknowledge the efforts made to finance and build
dignified reception facilities, and I cordially thank the local population for the
great good they have accomplished and for the many sacrifices they have made.
I also thank the local authorities for welcoming and looking after the people
coming to us. Thank you for what you are doing! Yet, with deep regret, we must
admit that this country, like others, continues to be hard-pressed, and that in
Europe there are those who persist in treating the problem as a matter that does
not concern them. This is tragic. I recall the final words spoken by the President:
“That Europe might do the same”.
How many conditions exist that are unworthy of human beings! How many
hotspots where migrants and refugees live in borderline conditions, without
glimpsing solutions on the horizon! Yet respect for individuals and for human
rights, especially on this continent, which is constantly promoting them
worldwide, should always be upheld, and the dignity of each person ought to
come before all else. It is distressing to hear of proposals that common funds be
used to build walls and barbed wire as a solution. We are in the age of walls and
barbed wire. To be sure, we can appreciate people’s fears and insecurities, the
difficulties and dangers involved, and the general sense of fatigue and
frustration, exacerbated by the economic and pandemic crises. Yet problems are
not resolved and coexistence improved by building walls higher, but by joining
forces to care for others according to the concrete possibilities of each and in
respect for the law, always giving primacy to the inalienable value of the life of
every human being. For as Elie Wiesel also said: “When human lives are
endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders become
irrelevant” (Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 10 December 1986).
In various societies, security and solidarity, local and universal concerns,
tradition and openness are being ideologically contraposed. Rather than
bickering over ideas, it would be better to begin with reality: to pause and
broaden our gaze to take in the problems of the majority of humanity, of all
those peoples who are victims of humanitarian emergencies they did not create,
yet have to endure as the latest chapter in a long history of exploitation. It is
easy to stir up public opinion by instilling fear of others. Yet why do we fail to
speak with equal vehemence about the exploitation of the poor, about
seldom-mentioned but often well-financed wars, about economic agreements
where the people have to pay, about covert deals to traffic in arms, favouring
the proliferation of the arms trade? Why is this not spoken of? The remote
causes should be attacked, not the poor people who pay the consequences and
are even used for political propaganda. To remove the root causes, more is
needed than merely patching up emergency situations. Coordinated actions are
needed. Epochal changes have to be approached with a breadth of vision. There
are no easy answers to complex problems; instead, we need to accompany
processes from within, to overcome ghettoization and foster a slow and
necessary integration, to accept the cultures and traditions of others in a
fraternal and responsible way.
Above all else, if we want to start anew, we must look at the faces of children.
May we find the courage to feel ashamed in their presence; in their innocence,
they are our future. They challenge our consciences and ask us: “What kind of
world do you want to give us?” Let us not hastily turn away from the shocking
pictures of their tiny bodies lying lifeless on the beaches. The Mediterranean,
which for millennia has brought different peoples and distant lands together, is
now becoming a grim cemetery without tombstones. This great basin of water,
the cradle of so many civilizations, now looks like a mirror of death. Let us not
let our sea (mare nostrum) be transformed into a desolate sea of death (mare
mortuum). Let us not allow this place of encounter to become a theatre of
conflict. Let us not permit this “sea of memories” to be transformed into a “sea
of forgetfulness”. Please brothers and sisters, let us stop this shipwreck of
On the banks of this sea, God became man. Here Jesus’ word resounded,
proclaiming that God is the “Father and guide of all people” (SAINT GREGORY OF
NAZIANZUS, Oration VII for his brother Caesarius, 24). God loves us as his
children; he wants us to be brothers and sisters. Instead, he is offended when
we despise the men and women created in his image, leaving them at the mercy
of the waves, in the wash of indifference, justified at times even in the name of
supposedly Christian values. On the contrary, faith demands compassion and
mercy. Let us not forget that this is God’s style: closeness, compassion and
tenderness. Faith impels us to hospitality, to that philoxenia (love of strangers)
which permeated classical culture, and later found in Jesus its definitive
expression, particularly in the parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:29-37)
and the words of Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew (cf. vv. 31-46). Far from
being a religious ideology, this has to do with our concrete Christian roots. Jesus
solemnly tells us that he is present in the stranger, in the refugee, in those who
are naked and hungry. The Christian programme is to be where Jesus is, for the
Christian programme, as Pope Benedict has written, “is a heart which sees”
(Deus Caritas Est, 31). I do not want to conclude this address without thanking
the Greek people for their welcoming spirit. Many times this becomes a problem
because it is difficult for the people who are coming here to go elsewhere. Thank
you, brothers, and sisters, for your generosity!
Let us now pray to Our Lady, that she may open our eyes to the sufferings of our
brothers and sisters. Mary set out in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth who was
pregnant. How many pregnant mothers, journeying in haste, have found death,
even while carrying life in their womb! May the Mother of God help us to have a
maternal gaze that regards all human beings as children of God, sisters and
brothers to be welcomed, protected, supported and integrated. And to be loved
tenderly. May the all-holy Mother teach us to put the reality of men and women
before ideas and ideologies, and to go forth in haste to encounter all those who
Let us all now pray to Our Lady