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In Assisi, Pope Francis lunches with world refugees

Pope Francis poses with refugees as he leads the weekly audience in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican on Aug. 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Max Rossi *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-POPE-REFUGEE, originally transmitted on Sept. 20, 2016.

ROME (RNS) Pope Francis met with refugees and leaders of religious faiths including Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus who joined him for a day of prayer for peace in Assisi, home of his namesake, the 12th-century friar St. Francis.

But it was the migrants he invited to join him for lunch on Tuesday (Sept. 20) who captured the headlines and illustrated the tangible impact of war and conflict.

Among them: 6-year-old Maria, the pope’s youngest guest, who came to Italy from the Syrian capital, Damascus, four months ago. With her parents, Nour and Mohanad, she traveled on a boat from Libya across the Mediterranean to Turkey.

“Up until now she has only known fear,” her father, Mohanad, told the Italian news agency ANSA. “She has not lived a childhood like all the others. She has only known war.”

The pope asked another young guest, 8-year-old Qudus from Syria, to make the appeal for peace. She was among those who traveled to Italy with Francis aboard the papal plane when he returned from his visit to Lesbos in April.

Tuesday’s peace lunch was held at the refectory of the Franciscan friars in Assisi, which hosted the 30th World Day of Prayer for Peace, established by St. John Paul II in 1986.

Throughout the day, Francis had individual talks with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I; the head of the Anglican church, Archbishop Justin Welby; and Patriarch Aphrem II from the Syriac Orthodox Church, as well as Muslim and Jewish leaders.

The refugees came from countries including Syria, Eritrea, Mali and Nigeria. Many escaped war and conflict at home and are seeking a new life in Italy, where they are living in migrant centers.

One man from Mali, who identified himself by his first name, Sira, first met Francis when the pope washed his feet nearly six months ago as part of the annual Easter ritual. A Muslim, Sira survived a voyage by boat from Libya. He is no longer a refugee; he now has a legal work permit.

“I believe there is no difference, we all pray to the same god,” he told Italian media ahead of Tuesday’s event.

Earlier Tuesday, the pope said the world had to go “beyond the divisions of religion” and appreciate the “shame” of war.

“The world is at war. The world is suffering,” Francis said during the homily at morning Mass at the Vatican.

“There is no God of war,” he said while urging “all men and women of goodwill, of any religion, to pray for peace.”

(Josephine McKenna is RNS’ Vatican correspondent)

About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.

13 Comments

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  • Was that Pope Francis or the Muslim that said “we all pray to the same God”?
    If it was the Muslim, did Pope Francis tell him that he prays in Jesus name?
    And that Jesus said, “I and the Father are one”? (John 10:30)

  • A day earlier, the UN General Assembly held “a high-level summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants attended by heads of state and government, Ministers, and leaders from the UN System, civil society, private sector, international organizations, academia” but not the pope or anyone from the Vatican. Just those who work on behalf of refugees and migrants without using them as props for their own PR.

  • The Pope had already asked a year ago that every Catholic parish, religious community, monastery and sanctuary in Europe host a family of 4 refugees.

  • Mighty big of him. The pope has still not disclosed his own assets but Italy’s financial newspaper, Il Sole 24 Ore, stated in 2015 the Vatican’s assets – securities, investments, commercial real estate, bank accounts – for all its departments combined would be around €15-17 billion “by a conservative estimate.” As Nuzzi and Fittipaldi told us in their books, the Peter’s Pence donation to the pope totaled €378 million in 2013. The Vatican Bank’s annual profits are also “offered the Holy Father in support of his apostolic and charitable ministry.” This was €50 million in 2013. Plus he has celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio handing him big checks. As a result of the “church tax” the Catholic Church in Germany received a record windfall of 6 billion Euros in 2015 — about 6.64 billion U.S. Dollars. In 2012, the Catholic Church in Italy netted a little over $1.3 billion from what’s known as the otto per mille (“eight per thousand”) system.

  • Betty, You are right that the Vatican is wealthy but some of your facts are misleading. First, the Catholic church through one of its charities that provides international aid has a ‘seat’ at the International Organization of Migration table which was given a formal relationship to the UN at the summit. Second, if you read the line under the photo, it is an old photo. Perhaps, this activity was planned in support of the resolutions made at the summit.

    You appear to confuse personal wealth with Church assets. Popes do not get paid and the current Pope has eschewed privileges that would normally go with the office. Also the church tax referred to is the money the German government collects in lieu of tithing which is returned to the corporate bodies of the churches and synagogues. So all had a windfall. The Otto per mille system is similar although taxpayers can also designate a non-religious organization. I believe that the Economist came up with an analysis of dispersion of income in the American Catholic church and found 88.6% was spent on charitable organizations.

    While I am not Catholic, I admire the Pope for his leadership on a Christian response to the Syrian refugee crisis particularly at a time of increasing anti-refugee/anti-Muslim sentiment.

    And at least in Canada, Catholic Relief Services is one of only two Christian organizations providing specific assistance to Syrian refugees living in camps.

  • Yes, the pope has taken a “leadership” role at a time of anti-refugee/anti-Muslim sentiment but also uses them as props in his own PR campaign as the “superstar” pope. He has not put his own wealth or that of the Church where his mouth is. And that’s why people who are doing the real work exclude him. One Catholic charity, that has only a minor, peripheral role, has not been mentioned in any news reports of the summit.
    I am not confusing his own wealth of half a billion dollars income annually with that of the Church. In both cases, there is plenty available to do much more than talk. Yes, Catholic charities do good work but their contribution is minuscule as shown on the Forbes list of the largest US charities.
    The article to which you refer: “The Economist estimates that annual spending by the church and entities owned by the church was around $170 billion in 2010 (the church does not release such figures). We think 57% of this goes on health-care networks, followed by 28% on colleges, with parish and diocesan day-to-day operations accounting for just 6% and national charitable activities just 2.7%.” Hospital and college administrators make six-figure incomes.
    You are certainly not alone in falling for the massive PR campaign during this pontificate. Martha’s House was built precisely because visiting prelates found the Papal Palace too uncomfortable especially in the summer heat. By all accounts, the papal apartment in the palace is not luxurious and the bedroom is Spartan.

  • I am curious as to your background and role in International aid or immigrants and refugees. And who are those people doing the real work?

    But I did some further fact checking. The Vatican was actively involved in the Summit – Cardinal Parolin’s name can be found on the UN list of provisional speakers for the plenary meetings and as well as the list of speakers for the round tables.

    The Roman Catholic church, just like many other churches spends much it receives on charitable services. I used the American RC church Economist article as it was the only example that I could find to compare with the figures you cited. I am not certain that Catholic operated hospitals/colleges are all operated by 6 figure administrators having working in a Catholic hospital where the administrator was a nun and many of the nursing staff in long term nursing care were also nuns. I also looked at the Forbes List and #15 was Catholic Charities USA and #35 was Catholic Relief Services.

    With respect to church wealth I do know that Pope Francis was commended by Nuzzi and Fittipaldi (whose books were based on documents leaked from a reform commission appointed by Pope Francis to get a handle on financial matters so that more money could be directed to the poor). Pope Francis has continued on the path of financial reform.

    I can find nothing to suggest that Pope Francis is paid anything at all. He is certainly not on any list of the world’s richest pastors. Peter’s Pence is a voluntary donation that is given to the Pope for personal philanthropy and has a very long history behind it. Martha’s House history has nothing to do with summer heat and everything to do with the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul who have been there since 1884 with it being rebuilt about 30 years ago. It also currently houses a maternity and pediatric clinic but is also now used for hospitality for visiting bishops and cardinals as well as being the residence of priests and bishops who work at the Vatican. The Papal Palace apartment was renovated in 2005 and has 10 rooms.

    I don’t think there is a massive PR campaign – I think the Pope is newsworthy enough though to be of occasional interest to mainstream media.

  • Parolin’s talk, according to the Vatican news agency: “The event was sponsored by the Vatican’s Permanent Observer mission to the UN, together with Caritas Internationalis and the Geneva based International Catholic Migration Commission” not by any UN agency.
    “The Domus Sanctae Marthae was completed in 1996, Pope John Paul II, after participating in two conclaves, decided to make the process more comfortable and less strenuous on the elderly cardinals, and commissioned the construction of Domus Sanctæ Marthæ. Pope Francis explained his decision in an interview with the Italian journal Civiltà Cattolica, saying, “The residence in the Apostolic Palace is not luxurious. It is large and made with good taste, but not luxurious. But in the end it is like a funnel turned upside down. It is large, but the entrance is narrow. Only one person at a time can get in and I cannot live alone. I must live my life with others.”
    You are a font of misinformation. So – bottom line – This article is about Assisi. The first “reform” of this pope’s curia was creating a Secretariat for (his) Economy to manage and prosper his 17 billion euro in assets. The second “reform” was creating a Secretariat for (his PR) Communications. What would St. Francis of Assisi do?

  • “Americans gave an estimated $358.38 billion to charity in 2014” so the totals of Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services are minuscule as a percentage.

  • Which of the top 50 charities then count according to the criteria of ‘minuscule as a percentage’?

  • Parolin was also at the official UN event – there were other speakers at this side event who were identified as attending the main event including one of the UN’s keynote speakers. The side event looked at the refugee crisis through a faith based lens. Important in that a large percentage of private sponsorships occur through faith based groups. Doubly important as the research suggests such private support adds a level of effectiveness.
    St. Martha’s House was a rebuild of St. Martha’s hospice. And you can read for yourself the original building’s various uses over time.
    And actually you know better because you have also written/noted the challenges the Pope has faced in trying to introduce financial reforms and transparency. At least you can read an Annual report of the IOR.
    So regardless of whether refugees is a massive photo-op, his endorsement has highlighted a process for providing refuge to Syrians in Europe – important given the way refugees have been managed by governments. And acts as a great counter to Franklin Graham et al narrative as to why the US should not accept Syrian refugees.

  • I’m pretty sure you know how to to that yourself. As Carl Sagan wrote: “One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

  • I guess you didn’t want to know the answer. The top 50 on the list represent 1/10th of all charitable giving for 2015. So presumably they are all minuscule.

    Otherwise, if you added up all 3 Catholic charities on the list, they would end up ranked 4th or 5th as a single Catholic charity based on total giving.

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