By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – All European countries must share the responsibility for taking in migrants and helping them integrate, Pope Francis said on Wednesday, urging nations to open “the door of the heart”.
Speaking at his weekly general audience, Francis, who has made the defence of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy, said he was able to touch their “wounded humanity” during his trip to Cyprus and Greece earlier this month.
“I also was able to see how only a few European countries are bearing the greater part of consequences of the phenomena of migration in the Mediterranean area,” he said.
“In reality, it calls for a shared responsibility on the part of all and from which no country can shrink, because it is a problem of humanity,” he said.
Frontline countries including Cyprus, Italy, Greece and Malta have long called for other countries to share responsibility for migrants crossing the Mediterranean from north Africa.
“These people have to be rescued but it is enormously unfair that it should only be Italy just because it’s the country of first landing in Europe,” Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said last month as 800 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean.
About 54,000 migrants have arrived in Italy this year, up from about 30,000 last year.
Twelve migrants from refugee camps in Cyprus who are being resettled in Italy at Pope Francis’ expense arrived last week, the first batch of a total of 50 expected from the Mediterranean island.
Francis said he hoped more European countries would allow local Church groups to bring in more refugees and migrants and help them integrate.
“You need only to open a door, the door of the heart. Let us not be remiss this Christmas,” Francis said.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Barbara Lewis)