ROME - Pope Francis lamented Sunday morning that "little has changed with regard to the issue of migration" since he last visited the Greek island of Lesbos in 2016.
Progress is being made in the campaign to vaccinate people against the Wuhan coronavirus and even in the fight against climate change," the pope said during his address at the Reception and Identification Centre on Lesbos, yet "all this seems to be terribly absent when it comes to migration."
Migration is "an issue for the whole world: a humanitarian crisis that concerns everyone," the pontiff stated, and "human lives, real people, are at stake!"
The solution to the migration crisis is openness rather than secure borders, Francis insisted.
"It is distressing to hear of proposals that common funds be used to build walls and barbed wire as a solution," the pontiff declared. "We are in the age of walls and barbed wire."
A man pays his respects to the Pope Francis during a meeting with refugees at the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos on December 5, 2021. (ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images)
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," he stated.
As he has done on other occasions, the pope criticized nations that do not open their doors to migrants, insisting that such a position reflects a lethal indifference.
"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," he said.
"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!" he added. "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."
The pope again blamed "nationalism" and a lack of multilateralism for the ongoing sufferings of migrants.
"History teaches us that narrow self-interest and nationalism lead to disastrous consequences," he said. "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."
What is needed "are not unilateral actions but wide-ranging policies," he asserted. "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!"
In Europe, "there are those who persist in treating the problem as a matter that does not concern them. This is tragic," he said.
Pope Francis listens to a speech during a meeting with refugees at the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos on December 5, 2021. Pope Francis return to the island of Lesbos, the migration flashpoint he first visited in 2016, to plead for better treatment of refugees as attitudes towards immigrants harden across Europe. (LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
"The Mediterranean, which for millennia has brought different peoples and distant lands together, is now becoming a grim cemetery without tombstones," Francis stated. "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)," he exclaimed. "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,'" he continued. "Please brothers and sisters, let us stop this shipwreck of civilization!"
Ironically, for all his dislike of walls, Pope Francis is the ruler of the only completely walled-in country in the world and the smallest independent state by both area and population.
The massive, 40-foot-high walls surrounding Vatican City State were built by Pope Leo IV, after Islamic Saracen troops sacked Old St. Peter's Basilica in 846 AD.
The original walls encompassed the entire Vatican hill, surrounding what came to be known as the Leonine City, but were later reduced to circumscribe only the 110-acre Vatican City that exists today.