As the debate over the appropriate response by rich countries to the global refugee crisis barrels on, Pope Francis said in a new interview that Catholics should offer housing or financial assistance to families settling in a new country, and, as Lent begins, he called on Catholics not to make excuses when it comes to giving to those asking for change.
“Here in the Vatican there are two parishes, and both are housing Syrian families. Many parishes in Rome have also opened their doors and others, which don’t have a house for priests, have offered to pay rent for families in need, for a full year,” he told “Scarp de’ tennis,” a magazine run by the homeless and socially excluded in Italy.
Some critics of the pope have derided his stance on refugees, claiming that the Vatican is a walled city (it is not) or that he only talks about helping migrants instead of directly assisting them (he has).
Earlier this month, for example, the right-wing news outlet Breitbart posted a tweet criticizing Pope Francis for his stance toward migrants, accusing the pontiff of hypocrisy:
“How many refugees are living inside your walls bruh,” read the tweet, which linked to a Breitbart story about a speech given by Francis in which he called for greater protections for migrants.
The interview was published on the eve of Ash Wednesday, which for Catholics and other Christians is the start of Lent, a season of penance and almsgiving. Francis said giving to the needy must be a priority—and challenged those who make excuses against giving money to people on the streets.
People who worry about how the money might be spent should ask themselves what guilty pleasures they are secretly spending money on, Pope Francis said.
“There are many excuses” to justify why one does not lend a hand when asked by a person begging on the street, he said. Some may think, “‘I give money and he just spends it on a glass of wine!’” Francis said.
But, he joked, a “glass of wine is his only happiness in life!”
Giving something to someone in need “is always right,” the pope said, adding that it should be done with respect and compassion because “tossing money and not looking in [their] eyes is not a Christian” way of behaving, he said.
During his interview with the magazine, whose title means “Sneakers” in English, Francis talked about the importance of being able to walk in other people’s shoes.
“In the shoes of the other, we learn to have a great capacity for understanding, for getting to know difficult situations,” Francis said.
Later in the interview, the pope talked about the importance of ensuring that new arrivals are given opportunities to integrate into the culture. He said that the 13 Muslim refugees he brought back aboard the papal plane to Rome from Lesbos last year have found work and enrolled in classes. (A report from The Guardian confirms the pope’s account.)
According to a summary of the interview from Vatican Radio, Francis highlighted Sweden as a model for other countries to emulate.
“During his own life, in the difficult years of the military dictatorship in Argentina, the pope often looked to the Swedish as a positive example of integration,” the report says.
Immigration issues in Sweden burst onto the world stage on Feb. 18, when President Donald J. Trump called out the nation during a rally in which he made the case for stronger immigration laws in the United States.
“You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden,” Mr. Trump said. “Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible.”
Political leaders in Sweden were perplexed, pointing out that there were no major incidents on the night Mr. Trump referenced. The president later backtracked, tweeting that he was responding to a Fox News report about crime in Sweden, not a specific event.