(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis received in audience in the Vatican Friday the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres. Guterres is currently serving his second five year mandate at the helm of the U.N.’s agency for refugees. As High Commissioner, he heads one of the world's largest humanitarian organizations with more than 7,000 staff working in 126 countries providing protection and assistance to millions of refugees, returnees, internally displaced people and stateless persons. More than 85 per cent of UNHCR staff work in the field, often in difficult and dangerous situations.
Tracey McClure spoke with the former Portuguese Prime Minister following his meeting with Pope Francis. She asked him if the Pope’s concerns about what he sees as the “globalization of indifference,” came up in their conversations. The Pope first used this term last July during a visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa where hundreds of migrants and refugees have perished while trying to reach European shores in search of a better life. (see below for audio of that interview)
“Indeed,” Guterres says. “I believe that first of all since ever, the Catholic Church has been absolutely impeccable in putting in the agenda the need to respect the rights of refugees, the rights of migrants, the need for societies to be tolerant, for societies to respect diversity and this has been a constant line of advocacy for the Catholic church but I think Pope Francis gave a new dimension to this. Because not only has he been expressing in a very clear way these positions, I remember his declaration (on) the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, also how this issue is dealt with in Evangelii Gaudium …
"But (it is also) his personal presence in Lampedusa, in that tragic moment when so many people (were) dying in the sinking boats in the Mediterranean, his visit to one of the refugee centers in Rome: the Centro Astalli of the Jesuit Refugee Services… so there is a personal testimony. It’s not only that there’s a doctrine, there is a personal engagement, a personal testimony and in a world of indifference, but also in a world of disrespect for refugees and migrants, in a world where diversity is (often) not appreciated... in a world where you see xenophobia and racism developing in many societies, people are afraid. "
"And when people are afraid, it is easy for populists and demagogues to convince people that foreigners are to be blamed because there is unemployment, because there is insecurity in our societies - even if it’s obviously not because of refugees that this happens. The voice of the Pope and the testimony of the Pope have an enormous importance to help us all (and) to help those who struggle for refugee protection to be maintained in our societies, to be able to defeat the voices of populism, the voices of intolerance, the voices of xenophobia that unfortunately – especially in our European continent – have been more and more fierce in the recent past.”
“Obviously, as citizens of the world, we see Pope Francis as a new symbol of hope for many things. I believe that obviously for the Catholic Church it represents an enormous breath of fresh air that is making a lot of people feel strongly committed also, but for the world in general, it has an enormous influence in a moment that we see that conflicts are multiplying, the international community has lost much of its capacity to prevent conflicts and to solve conflicts. We see the world unable to address some of the key challenges of our time. Look at climate change for instance. We see a global lack of leadership. So to see this kind of committed (engagement) and at the same time humane, deeply human leadership in the Catholic Church, is I think, a fantastic example for the world. And so it’s natural that everybody that feels this enormous strength, (the) energy that comes from the Pope, that everybody would of course, I’m sure, would like to be with him and to be able to (draw in) this energy and this commitment because we all need that in the difficult moments that we are facing.”
In this extended interview with Tracey McClure, Guterres speaks of the challenges facing Syrian refugees in the Middle East and his hope that Europe will respond more effectively to the crisis by opening its doors to more refugees of the conflict: