A Short Essay in Observations and Questions

A short essay in observations and questions.  

Lampedusa, Italy. 2013. Pope Francis comes to the island of Lampedusa following a shipwreck which killed hundreds of migrants. He delivers his homily in solidarity with migrants and refugees seeking safe haven, and praises the people serving in Lampedusa to welcome the travelers. He extends his compassion to migrants seeking refuge, his deep sorrow for those who died seeking that refuge. He offers a challenge to the world to stand before God as the keepers of their brothers and sisters, and to weep at their suffering.

Vatican City. August 2017. Pope Francis delivers his message for the 104thWorld Day of Migrants and Refugees. He challenges the Church and the global community to respond to migrants and refugees with four verbs: “to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate” (par. 2). At the center of this admonition is “the centrality of the human person” (par. 3) and “the humanity intended by the Creator” (par. 5).

U.S.A. May 2018. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announces that children of immigrants entering the U.S. illegally will be removed and detained separately from their parents. This “zero-tolerance” policy causes national and international back-lash, eventually leading the administration to walk back the policy slightly.

Lampedusa, Italy. Summer 2018. Dr. Pietro Bartolo states that the condition of the migrants, arriving to Lampedusa from Libya, resembles “the suffering of a concentration camp” (“I’m a Doctor in Lampedusa,” The Guardian 11 July 2018). Bartolo laments the agreement his government made with Libya to work to keep migrants from leaving northern Africa. He castigates politicians for turning a blind eye to suffering and death.

Rome, Italy. Summer 2018. Brand-new Internal Minister Matteo Salvini states, “We want to save lives and to protect Italian security. Saving lives will be accomplished by reducing the departure of boats, and Italian security by limiting those who come to Italy” (Interview on Corriere della Sera, corriere.it, 19 July 2018, my translation).

Mediterranean Sea / Spain. Summer 2018. Italy refuses to allow NGO boats carrying migrants to dock on Italian shores, and groups of migrants are eventually permitted to disembark in Spain. A woman from Cameroon, rescued by Spanish NGO Open Arms, states that other rescue boats refused to save her. She was the sole survivor of a shipwreck, and was left by the Libyan coast guard with the bodies of dead migrants traveling with her (“La Open Arms Sparca in Spagna,” Avvenire.it, 21 July, 2018). Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera states that the Spanish NGO “has denounced the Coast Guards of Libya and Italy for failure to rescue and for culpable homicide” (“Open Arms Denuncia Libia e Italia <<omissione di soccorso>>,” Corriere della Sera, 21 July 2018, my translation).



Both President Trump and Italian Minister Salvini appear to see migrants as a threat to their own countries. Pope Francis states that welcoming migrants and refugees means “offering broader options for migrants and refugees to enter destination countries safely and legally” (“World Day” par. 3). The contrast between this stance and current U.S. policy is obvious. U.S. policies convey that the administration generally wants to admit as few refugees as possible, and therefore is not inclined towards offering “broader options.” The points of reference from which these two viewpoints begin is the cause of the diverse end goals. Pope Francis states that “The principle of the centrality of the human person…obliges us to always prioritise personal safety over national security” (“World Day” par. 3). Salvini and Trump prioritize their conception of national interests over the personal safety of individuals from other countries. Would those who refuse to broadly welcome refugees and migrants, such as Matteo Salvini or President Trump, deny the “centrality of the human person,” or base such a centrality on country of origin, and what is the outcome of this?


Pope Francis calls for the international community to “defend the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees, independent of their legal status” (“World Day” par. 4). To the Trump administration, legal status is arguably seen as the linchpin of immigration. Can rights and dignity not be defended if a person’s status is not legal? Attorney General Sessions suggests that a person entering the country illegally forfeits his or her rights: “If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple” (qtd. in “Jeff Sessions,” Time, 7 May 2018). If people forfeit their rights by entering the country illegally, do they also forfeit their dignity?


Pope Francis describes promotion as “a determined effort to ensure that all migrants and refugees—as well as the communities that welcome them—are empowered to achieve their potential as human beings, in all the dimensions which constitute the humanity intended by the Creator” (“World Day” par 5). Jeff Sessions and Matteo Salvini would likely say that they need to focus on promoting the people in their own countries. Italy has an unemployment rate of around 11%, and many Italians feel that the influx of migrants is taxing their country in ways the country can’t handle, hence their 2018 election of the far-right Salvini. Certainly some in the international community who oppose more open borders do not also oppose the dignity of migrants, but feel that their own country’s people are not achieving, in Pope Francis’s words, “their potential as human beings.” How can the two sides of this complicated reality—Pope Francis and Jeff Sessions, for example—have an actual, generative conversation in which the language used can translate to the frames of reference of both sides?


The U.S. arguably does not oppose integration of foreign nationals, but seems to prioritize integration which it views to be in its own best interests. A recent interview between Ira Glass, host of NPR’s This American Life, and a Trump administration official discusses the administration’s tightening of immigration policies. In the interview the official indicates that the government should be more selective about who is allowed in, declaring that one category of people the U.S. should admit is “actual Einsteins” (“Let Me Count the Ways,” 15 Sept. 2018, This American Life, npr.org). Pope Francis encourages the international community to take advantage of “the opportunities for intercultural enrichment brought about by the presence of migrants and refugees,” and describes this as a “lengthy process” that will make societies “more and more a reflection of the multi-faceted gifts of God to human beings” (“Word Day” par. 6). What is needed in our global society to see not just the cultures and abilities of “actual Einsteins” but also those of refugees, of the poor, and of all whom Jesus might call “the least of these,” as “gifts of God”?

—Sabrina Fountain

Works Cited

Bartolo, Pietro. “I’m a Doctor in Lampedusa. We Can’t Let These Migrant Deaths Go On.” The Guardian, 11 July 2018, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/11/pietro-bartolo-lampedusa-doctor-migrant-deaths-mediterranean-slaughter-innocents. Accessed 13 Sept. 2018.

Editorial Board. “Migranti, Open Arms Denuncia Libia e Italia: <<Ommissione di soccorso>>. E 15 profughi sbaracano a Lampedusa,” Corriere della Sera, 21 July 2018, www.corriere.it/cronache/18_luglio_21/migranti-15-tunisini-sbarcano-lampedusa-open-arms-arriva-palma-finalmente-porto-sicuro-def34b1a-8cce-11e8-a028-9f549fd88b33.shtml. Accessed 13 Sept. 2018.

Editorial Board. “La Open Arms Sbarca in Spagna,” Avvenire, 21 July 2018, www.avvenire.it/attualita/pagine/l-open-arms-sbarca-in-spagna. Accessed 14 Sept. 2018.

Glass, Ira. “Let Me Count the Ways,” This American Life, 15 Sept. 2018, npr.org.

Jenkins, Aric. “Jeff Sessions: Parents and Children Illegally Crossing the Border will be Separated,” Time, 7 May 2018, time.com/5268572/jeff-sessions-illegal-border-separated/. Accessed 15 September 2018.

Pope Francis. Visit to Lampedusa, 8 July 2013, Lampedusa, Italy. Homily.

—.“Welcoming, Protecting, Promoting, and Integrating Migrants and Refugees.” 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 15 August 2017, Vatican City.

Salvini, Matteo. Televised Interview, Corriere della Sera, 19 July 2018, corriere.it. Accessed 15 Sept. 2018.

5 thoughts on “A Short Essay in Observations and Questions

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