Pope warns against sin of hostility to migrants

Pope Francis has called hostility aimed at migrants and refugees a sin, urging communities not to yield to fear of the other. The pontiff delivered his message at a special Mass for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants.

Pope Francis told those gathered at St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday that while fear was an understandable human response, it should not lead to anger and rejection.

"Local communities are sometimes afraid that the newly arrived will disturb the established order, will 'steal' something they have long labored to build up," he said, while the newly arrived "are afraid of confrontation, judgment, discrimination, failure.

"Having doubts and fears is not a sin," the pope continued. "The sin is to allow these fears to determine our responses, to limit our choices, to compromise respect and generosity, to feed hostility and rejection."

Francis invited thousands of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees from some 50 countries to attend the special Mass at the Vatican to mark the World Day of Migrants and Refugees.

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Defender of migrant rights

The Argentina-born pontiff has frequently spoken out for the rights of migrants  during the five years he has led the Catholic Church. Since his election in 2013, the world has witnessed a number of migrant crises, including a surge in the number of refugees from the Middle East and Africa seeking to reach Europe, and an exodus of Myanmar's persecuted Rohingya minority to Bangladesh.

On his first official trip outside Rome, Francis traveled to the Italian island of Lampedusa — at the time a primary European entry point for thousands of mainly African migrants. In April 2016, he visited the Greek island of Lesbos , which has also been overwhelmed by migrants arriving by boat from Turkey.

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Pope Francis visits Myanmar

Landmark Mass

Pope Francis traveled to Yangon's Kyaikkasan football stadium on Wednesday to celebrate his first public Mass in Myanmar. The pontiff told the crowd of some 150,000 worshippers to resist the temptation to exact revenge for the country's suffering, and instead promote peace, reconciliation and forgiveness.

Pope Francis visits Myanmar

Meeting the Lady

On Tuesday, the first full day of his Myanmar visit, Pope Francis was in the capital, Naypyidaw, for talks with Myanmar President Htin Kyaw and civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Rights groups had called for him to speak out about the country's crackdown on Rohingya Muslims. In a speech, Francis urged "respect for each ethnic group," but did not mention the Rohingya by name.

Pope Francis visits Myanmar

'United in diversity'

Earlier, Francis met with leaders of Myanmar's different religious communities at the archbishop's residence in Yangon. During the gathering, the pontiff stressed the importance of "unity in diversity."

Pope Francis visits Myanmar

Roll out the red carpet

Although only 700,000 of Myanmar's 52 million inhabitants are Catholic, that didn't keep thousands of well-wishers from meeting Pope Francis at the airport on Monday and lining the streets of Yangon in order to catch a glimpse of the bishop of Rome.

Pope Francis visits Myanmar

A cause for celebration

"We come here to see the Holy Father. It happens once in hundreds of years," one Catholic community leader, who brought 1,800 Christians from the south and west to the country on the long train journey to Yangon, told Reuters news agency.

Pope Francis visits Myanmar

Minorities greet the pontiff

The pope was greeted by ethnic minorities in traditional dress. About 88 percent of Burmese people identify as Buddhist.

Pope Francis visits Myanmar

Humanitarian crisis

The government of Myanmar has been accused of "ethnic cleansing" including the widespread murder and rape of Rohingya Muslims in the country's Rakhine state. Once refugees from Bangladesh, the Rohingya have been declared stateless and persecuted by the Myanmar government.

Pope Francis visits Myanmar

Meeting with the commander

Soon after his arrival on Monday, Pope Francis received a "courtesy visit" from Myanmar's army chief Gerneal Min Aung Hlaing. The Vatican did not provide details about the brief meeting. Myanmar's military has been accused of violent purges of Rohingya villages.

Pope Francis visits Myanmar

First stop

After Myanmar, the pontiff will head to Bangladesh, where many Rohingya have fled. Some inside the Vatican have said that the trip was arranged too hastily after a visit by the now controversial leader Aung San Suu Kyi to Rome last May.

"It is not easy to enter into another culture, to put oneself in the shoes of people so different from us, to understand their thoughts and their experiences," Francis said. "As a result, we often refuse to encounter the other and raise barriers to defend ourselves."

The 81-year-old also stressed that newcomers must "know and respect the laws, the culture and the traditions of the countries that take them in." Communities, on the other hand, have "to open themselves without prejudices to (newcomers') rich diversity, to understand the hopes and potential of the newly arrived as well as their fears and vulnerabilities."

On Monday, Francis will begin an eight-day tour of his native South America, visiting Peru and Chile.

nm/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)