Pope Francis meeting the heads of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI). | Photo: Archive ANSA / VATICAN MEDIA
Pope Francis meeting the heads of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI). | Photo: Archive ANSA / VATICAN MEDIA

Migrants were at the forefront of a meeting between Pope Francis and members of the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI) on Monday (May 22). The pontiff told bishops how important it is not only to host migrants but also to promote their integration.

Pope Francis held a meeting with members of the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI) on Monday (May 22).

Some participants said the closed-door meeting was candid but serene. Peace, migrants, rising poverty, the climate crisis, as well as matters regarding the Church, were discussed.

Migration - from search for a better life to flight

Francis gave a special gift to participants -- the book "Hermanito" (little brother) published in Italy by Feltrinelli, which tells the true story of Ibrahima Balde's journey from Guinea to the Basque Country.

The pope told members he himself was the offspring of immigrants, stressing that the phenomenon has deeply changed.

While his family, like many others, moved to "search" for a better life, an increasing number of migrants are now "fleeing" dire situations, the pope said, according to the sources.

He stressed that migrants "should not only be welcomed but also integrated" into society.

The pope then noted how departure countries -- Africa in particular -- "must not be exploited".

As in previous years, the pope replied to questions posed by the bishops during the meeting.

Call for compassion, in particular for those in need

The secretary general of CEI Giuseppe Baturi said the meeting was marked by "familiarity, dialogue, with many questions and answers that were always precise".

"Churches are required to have compassion for mankind" taking care in particular of those in difficulty and need, as is the case for migrants, Baturi said.

Welcoming migrants and birth rate should not be counterposed

In an address made at the conference on Tuesday (May 23), archbishop of Bologna and president of the Italian Bishops' Conference Cardinal Matteo Zuppi said "young couples are often unable to build a family simply due to unstable jobs or the lack of policies supporting them, starting with housing."

Zuppi said the issue of families has a direct impact on what the Cardinal called the "demographic crisis", which he described as a "dramatic, multiannual negative trend".

"The entire country is suffering a crisis, and this is also related to the hosting of migrants and their inevitable integration in our society. Hosting and birth rate, as recalled by Pope Francis, don't go against one another but rather complement each other and stem from the desire to look to the future," Zuppi said.

He continued: Pope Francis "clarified how birth rate and hosting [migrants] share the same horizon of openness to the future: 'They must never be counterposed because they are two faces of the same coin, as they reveal how much happiness there is in society'", he said.

Instead, "welcoming a nascent life is often accompanied by closed doors for refugees and migrants -- this is the sad society based of fear," he said.

The president of CEI went on to note that "closing the door to those who are knocking, at the end, has the same logic of not leaving room for life in our homes. We actually need migrants to live: they are requested by companies, families, society. Let's not put obstacles, with the shadow of punishment, to their journey in our country!" Zuppi said.

He criticized red tape for hindering integration and family reunification; the lengthy process to obtain a residence permit; the fact that recognizing immigrants' degrees is neglected, although it is an added value for the country, along with a stalemate on the decision to approve the so-called 'ius culturae' (law of culture) granting citizenship to foreign minors.


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