The Political Pope: Francis to Hold Closed-Door Mass for Migrants

On July 1, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis plans to hold a mass for migrants, refugees, and those who are dedicated to saving their lives in St Peter’s Basilica on July 8.

The pope plans to invite around 250 individuals to the celebration, but only persons “invited by the Migrants and Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development” are permitted to participate, according to the Vatican, essentially denying the public of this Mass.

The pope is even suggesting that the press is not permitted to this event. According to the Vatican, “the presence of press in the Basilica is not anticipated.”

The Mass for Migrants on July 8 remains closed to the public and the press, while open to migrants, refugees, and rescuers.

The date July 8, 2019, marks the sixth anniversary of Pope Francis’s visit to Lampedusa, a small island in the south of Italy with a population of 6000, which has become a critical point of entry for many African migrants who attempt to cross into Europe.

In 2013, Pope Francis stated, “We have become used to other people’s suffering, it doesn’t concern us, it doesn’t interest us, it’s none of our business!”

“I want to say a word of heartfelt gratitude to you, the people of Lampedusa and Linosa, and to the various associations, volunteers, and security personnel who continue to attend to the needs of people journeying towards a better future,” he added.

At Lampedusa, he also took political swipes, criticizing “those, whose decisions at a global level have created the conditions which have led us to this drama,” most likely a reference to those who want to restrict migration into their nations given his past remarks on immigration policy.

It remains highly likely that Pope Francis will take a similar position, encouraging individuals to help and take in more migrants, while directly or indirectly condemning those who make it harder for migrants to enter their nations.

Whether Pope Francis is aware of this or not, the debate on whether individuals should facilitate the arrival of refugees and asylum seekers remains a clear political issue—and he is probably incorrect that helping refugee and asylum seekers is the more humane policy.

The Italian government, for instance, has argued that non-governmental organization (NGO) operations may incentivize more people to travel across the Mediterranean Sea and encourage human traffickers, leading more people to attempt dangerous routes and die along the way.

After Italy was set to pass a set of restrictions on NGO operations helping migrants, Italy subsequently saw a 52.5 percent drop in migrants in July 2017 compared to one year ago. In 2018, sea crossings fell by nearly more than 80 percent, while those who were “dead and missing” were reduced by more than a half.

Similar results were achieved in other nations like Australia. In 2015, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated that the only way to stop deaths at sea “is in fact, to stop the boats.”

Called Operation Sovereign Border, he implemented policies in 2013 that turned back asylum-seeker boats to Indonesia and even purchased orange lifeboats to ferry back asylum seekers when their boats were too damaged. The Australian government is also accused of having paid off certain smugglers.

In the end, a series of strict immigration policies and refusal to accept refugees and asylum seekers reduced the number of arrivals and deaths in Australia intensely. Arrivals in 2013 totaled around 20,000 individuals with around 200 deaths, while the number of arrivals in 2016 was zero and the number of deaths zero, according to the Parliament of Australia and Monash University.

If Pope Francis genuinely cared about the lives of migrants being killed in the arduous sea crossing more than virtue signaling, he should advocate for stricter immigration policies based on modern historical examples.

At the very least, Pope Francis, as a religious leader, must treat this issue evenhandedly and not make himself into such a partisan political leader.