KRAKOW, Poland—Pope Francis’ visit to Poland has officially started, and he began by addressing the two issues he knew might clash with local authorities and the local church from the very beginning: Migration and the care of the environment.
Poland, together with Hungary, is the European country that has most forcefully rejected Europe’s plan to welcome migrants and refugees arriving on the continent on a daily basis, fleeing war, hunger, poverty and religious persecution.
“[Migration is an area that] calls for great wisdom and compassion, in order to overcome fear and to achieve the greater good,” Francis said on Wednesday, addressing the local authorities and the members of the diplomatic corps.
He began referring to Poland’s increasing migration, since according to recent statistics, half of the young population currently studying wants to emigrate to find a better future.
“There is a need to seek out the reasons for emigration from Poland and to facilitate the return of all those wishing to repatriate,” he said.
Immediately afterwards, he spoke of the need of a “spirit of readiness” to welcome those fleeing from wars and hunger, and “solidarity with those deprived of their fundamental rights, including the right to profess one’s faith in freedom and safety.”
Local observers say the pope’s words are likely to be taken as a challenge to Poland’s conservative government.
Francis then made an appeal for the international community to create new forms of exchange and cooperation in order to resolve the conflicts that force so many to leave their native lands.
“This means doing everything possible to alleviate the suffering while tirelessly working with wisdom and constancy for justice and peace, bearing witness in practice to human and Christian values,” the pope said.
Francis was expected to address the matter of migration at least once during his July 27-31 visit to the land of St. John Paul II, and this was the perfect situation for him to do so. One of the Polish journalists travelling on the papal plane told Crux that even if the speech on this issue was “strong” she believed it “could have been worse.”
Closing his address, Francis also called the Polish nation to look with hope to the future, an approach which will “favor a climate of respect between all elements of society and constructive debate on differing positions.”
This climate, he said, will create conditions of civil, economic and even demographic growth.
“The young should not simply have to deal with problems, but rather be able to enjoy the beauty of creation, the benefits we can provide and the hope we can offer,” the pope said, mindful of the fact that the reason for his visit to Krakow is neither migration nor the environment, but the youth.
Last but not least, he spoke of the importance of social policies in support of the family, assisting underprivileged and poor families, and the protection of life “from conception to natural death.”
Francis said that it’s the responsibility of the State, the Church and society to help those who are in difficult situations to guarantee that a child is never “seen as a burden but as a gift, and those who are most vulnerable and poor will not be abandoned.”
Earlier in his remarks, Francis spoke of Poland’s memory, calling it a “hallmark” of its people. This, he said, offers a consciousness of one’s own identity, “free of any pretensions to superiority,” indispensable for building a national community both rooted in its history yet open to renewal and the future.
National awareness, he said, is also needed for cooperation in the international sphere: “Dialogue cannot exist unless each party starts out from its own identity.”
Francis then also praised Poland for celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the forgiveness mutually offered between the Polish and German episcopates following World War II, which was then adopted by the two peoples, not just the bishops.
In equal fashion, he lauded the agreement between the Poles and the Russian Orthodox Church, which again began in a religious sphere but which also had an impact in society.