Pope Francis gave a joyride to eight migrant kids Wednesday, parading them around Saint Peter’s Square in his popemobile before his weekly General Audience.
Vatican News said that Pope Francis asked the popemobile driver to stop to allow the eight children to climb aboard for a ride, but the encounter seemed anything but spontaneous.
All eight of the kids were wearing T-shirts that said “Welcome, protect, promote and integrate,” referring to the pope’s mantra regarding how to deal with migrants.
The interim Director of the Holy See Press Office, Alessandro Gisotti, explained to journalists that some of the kids had arrived from Libya through a “humanitarian corridor” on April 29, while the others had arrived on a migrant boat several months ago.
The children were of several different nationalities, including Syrian, Nigerian and Congolese, Gisotti said, and are currently being hosted by an association just outside Rome, together with their families,.
Vatican News reported that the “Humanitarian Corridors” project, which has the pope’s support, is run by the Community of Sant’Egidio together with the Federation of Evangelical Churches and the Waldensian and Methodist Churches.
Outreach to migrants has been one of the central pillars of Francis’ six-year pontificate, and he has used every occasion to urge politicians and citizens to open their hearts and their countries to migrants.
The Vatican threw its full support behind the United Nations (UN) “Global Compact for safe, orderly and regular migration” (GCM), declaring that the accord was a major milestone in international immigration regulation.
“An important example of multilateralism, the GCM is the first international agreement on migration at the global level,” the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, declared in an article.
Despite the pope’s global push for migration, he has experienced a certain amount of pushback from within the Church’s hierarchy.
The highest-ranking African cardinal said last month that the Church risks becoming just another NGO if it focuses on “horizontal” issues like immigration and ecology rather than preaching Jesus Christ, adding that a Church of migration and ecology is “of interest to no one.”
Some Catholic leaders urge the Church “not to speak about God, but to throw itself body and soul into social problems: migration, ecology, dialogue, the culture of encounter, the struggle against poverty, for justice and peace,” said Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, who heads up the Vatican’s liturgical office, yet “a Church such as this is of interest to no one.”
The same cardinal, who has seen firsthand the effects of migration on the African people, has said that encouraging mass migration fundamentally misrepresents the gospel.
This week another prelate, the former archbishop of Ferrara-Comacchio, Luigi Negri, expressed his astonishment with the Vatican’s seemingly obsessive focus on migration, recalling that “migrants are not the only ones, there are also plenty of poor Italians.”
“We cannot treat migrants as the sole problem or the determining subject. We must think of the whole person, all people, in every situation,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome