Pope Francis Visits Migrants in Bologna: “Integration, begins with knowing the story of the other”

By the afternoon of Friday, September 29, you could feel the excitement building in the Piazza Maggiore here in Bologna. There were many street performers including musicians, dancers, and baton twirlers. The tiny streets were lined with barricades. This was no ordinary weekend. Pope Francis was going to be visiting Bologna on Sunday, October 1.

From the early hours of the morning, the streets were thronged with thousands of people of every size, color, and shape. We were all jammed in close, talking and laughing – waiting together for hours to see this Italian-born Argentine immigrant, this international leader and head of the Catholic Church to arrive. Where would he go, what would he say?

Pope Francis arrives in Bologna

And then he arrived!

He came and met with thousands of migrants and refugees in Bologna, and had a message for the leaders of Europe and in fact, for all of us. He spoke to everyone.

His message couldn’t be simpler. With migrants, he shared with them their pain of being looked down upon, feared, and viewed with coldness. He remembered those who died at sea or in the desert during their journey.  He reminded them that they are “fighters of hope.” He wished that their hope should never turn into despair, and he thanked all who are helping them. The Pope asked migrants to work hard, and to follow the laws of the land.

Pope in Bologna – meeting with migrants; courtesy of Vatican Radio News, AP

Here are some of the key points from his speech:

Pope Francis called for “vision and great determination to prevent distortion or exploitation which, becomes even more unacceptable because they are committed on the poor.”

He urged countries to take up private and community support programs for refugees in more difficult situations. He asked that refugees be  spared exhaustive waiting periods.  He noted that “integration, begins with knowing the story of the other.”

This excerpt from an Associated Press article, captures his ability to relate to the migrant community, “He drew cheers when he ad-libbed that he knew the migrants were desperate to have identification documents, and again when he insisted that each one had a name and a story of the tragedies endured to arrive in Italy. He donned the same plastic ID bracelet that the migrants were wearing and led hundreds in silent prayer for those who died in the journey.”

He even had a message for the students of Bologna, urging us all to “not conform to small dreams, dream big.”

Pope Francis left thanking the city of Bologna, noting, “The city is not afraid to donate the five loaves and the two fish. Providence will intervene and everyone will be satisfied.”

His humbleness and openness, the importance and significance of his words to all audiences cannot be understated. In a world of divisiveness and polarity, his was a steadying voice of reason, balance, and unification. I for one, am truly grateful to have witnessed his reassuring presence.

From migrants to Italian citizens to those visiting Italy to those studying abroad, everyone felt welcome at this event.

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