New York Times
By Jim Yardley
February 17, 2016
In visiting the border today, Pope Francis is diving into the American political debate about immigration, but he is also simply saying and doing what he has done on trips elsewhere in the world.
Not long after becoming pope in 2013, Francis chose the Italian island of Lampedusa for his first papal trip. It was a telling decision, because for years, migrants from North Africa had risked their lives to reach Lampedusa on rickety boats or rubber rafts. His message was a cry for global attention to the migrants drowning in the Mediterranean.
When he visited the Holy Land in May 2014, Francis made an unscheduled stop in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, to pray and lean his head against the controversial partition wall that divides the Palestinian sector of the city from Israel.
His visit to the United States in September 2015 was more of the same. When he stood with President Obama on the South Lawn of the White House, Francis introduced himself as “a son of immigrants,” a reminder that his parents fled Fascist Italy for Argentina. During his address to Congress, Francis reminded lawmakers of America’s immigrant tradition and called on them to welcome such desperate people, not demonize or fear them.
Some critics say Francis’ gestures are resonant but ultimately just gestures. Yet, in at least one case, his influence is credited with policy change. In 2013, hundreds of migrants were believed to have drowned near the coast of Lampedusa after their rickety boat sank. Francis spoke out, calling the accident a terrible tragedy that did not need to happen. Italian officials soon created a naval rescue program, Mare Nostrum, credited with saving more than 100,000 migrants in the Mediterranean. Some officials say Francis’ words influenced the decision by Prime Minister Enrico Letta to establish the rescue mission.
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