The debate over the migrant crisis has a new voice: Pope Francis.
Monday the Vatican released a comprehensive policy document urging countries around the world to ban “arbitrary and collective expulsions” of refugees or migrants, and to expand the number of “safe and legal pathways” for migration.
The policy document, “Responding to Refugees and Migrants: Twenty Action Points,” was released by the Vatican’s section on Migrants and Refugees, a small department within the Vatican that Francis directly oversees. The document comes in anticipation of talks on immigration and migration at the United Nations scheduled for next year.
The memo also highlighted the importance of social and economic justice for those who have already migrated, including guaranteeing equal access to education for children. It also calls to prohibit “exploitation, forced labor, or trafficking” and guaranteeing the rights of undocumented workers who need to report abusive employers. Such stipulations reflect Francis’s well documented concern for workers’ issues more broadly.
Francis delivered a message with the document’s release last week. "Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ,” the pope said. "This solidarity must be concretely expressed at every stage of the migratory experience — from departure through journey to arrival and return.”
He was also critical of anti-migration policies enacted in the name of wider security concerns. "The principle of the centrality of the human person, firmly stated by my beloved predecessor, Benedict XVI, obliges us to always prioritize personal safety over national security,” Francis said.
Graham Gordon, head of policy at Catholic aid agency CAFOD, said in a statement: “The Holy Father is making clear that all countries must step up to the plate and pull their weight. ... This is one of the greatest crises of the century so far. Not for the first time, the Pope is reminding politicians that history will judge whether they rise to the challenge or abdicate their responsibilities.”
While the pope did not call out any politicians by name, it’s difficult to imagine that he was not referring, at least in part, to the strongly isolationist tendencies of Donald Trump. The two clashed earlier this year during Trump’s visit to the Vatican and while Trump was on the campaign trail. This summer, shortly after receiving a pointedly given copy of the Pope’s 2015 encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’, Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accords.
In taking on the plight of migrants so visibly, the Pope may be repeating his previous strategy on environmental issues: a strategy that — with the exception of Trump’s response — has been largely successful in shaping global discourse.
Laudato Si’ proved enormously influential in raising political goodwill for environmental initiatives, including the Paris accords. The United Nations’ chief climate change official, Christiana Figueres, referred to it as a "clarion call" for change, and Catholics — including CAFOD’s UK news officer Liam Finn, celebrated it as a sign of Francis’s ability to make Vatican documents the subject of international media coverage.
Francis’s media popularity — and savvy — render his public policy positions far more visible than those of, say, his predecessor Benedict XIV. But it remains to be seen how well Francis shapes the political discourse this time.