This Sunday, March 13, marks the third anniversary of Pope Francis’ appointment. Often known as the “People’s Pope” and “Pope of the Poor”, the pontiff has won many accolades for his humble style and focus on service for the disadvantaged. The Argentine native is both the first non-European pontiff and the first Jesuit to head the Roman Catholic Church. His decisions to not reside in the papal apartments, to ride in modest cars, and dress in the simplest manner have helped him build a relationship with the common masses and change perceptions of the Catholic Church. In addition, some of his more controversial decisions, such as the inclusion of women in previously exclusive ceremonies, along with a move towards the acceptance of contraception and homosexuality has made him a popular figure globally, while causing discomfort among the more conservative classes.
Among the many issues that Pope Francis has lent his support to, immigration has been a consistent one. Drawing on his experience as the son of Italian immigrants, the Pope has made the strong moral case for the humane treatment of immigrants across the globe. During his historical visit to the US in September 2015, Pope Francis made powerful statements highlighting the plight of immigrants and the need for their acceptance and integration. He repeatedly referenced America’s immigration history, indicating that migrants were critical to the economy. His speech to Congress, which urged political leaders to drop the divisive rhetoric around the issue, resonated with politicians and citizens alike. His recent visit to the U.S.-Mexican border was also symbolic of his support for immigrants.
The pontiff’s focus on immigration in the U.S. was also prompted by the country’s dramatically shifting demographics. A Pew Research Center study indicates that more than a quarter of U.S. Catholics are immigrants. At a time when religiosity, specifically around the Catholic faith, is declining, immigrant communities could serve as a way to reinforce the U.S. Catholic church and save many parishes from shutting down.
Whatever the motivations behind the Pope’s support for immigration, his declarations have shed light on the positive effects immigrants have on the nation’s economy and society. The Pope’s positive comments on immigrant contributions are supported by research published by the Partnership for a New American Economy. For example, one report found that immigrants founded 28 percent of all new business in the United States in 2011 and are more than twice as likely to start a business than the native-born population.
At a time when the rhetoric around immigration is at its harshest, it is valuable to remind ourselves of the Pope’s words: “We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. …Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal solidarity, in a constant effort to do our best.”