Global indifference to refugees deserves 'vengeance' from God - Italian cardinal

An Italian cardinal has lamented the plight of refugees seeking to enter Europe, comparing their situation to that of Lazarus in Luke 16.

Migrants and activists hold a banner as they face off with Italian police on the seawall at the Saint Ludovic border crossing on the Mediterranean Sea between Ventimiglia, Italy and Menton, France, September 30, 2015.Reuters

Speaking to the permanent council of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa compared the migrants and refugees seeking to enter Europe to Lazarus, and the rich countries to the damned rich man.

They are "like Lazarus knocking at the door of the rich countries... Can Europe, the cradle of civilisation and rights, build walls and dig ditches?"

The comparison to Lazarus refers to an account in Luke 16:19-31 of the interaction between a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus, who hoped "to eaat what fell from the rich man's table". The rich man was indifferent to his plight and refused to help him. Eventually, they both died. Lazarus went to heaven, and the rich man went to hell. Asking "Father Abraham" in heaven, the rich man asked that Lazarus be sent to cool his tongue with a drop of water to lessen his "agony in this fire". He also asked that Lazarus be sent back to warn his brothers to repent. Both requests were denied.

"We repeat that the global indifference is something that cries out for vengeance before God," Bagnasco said, noting that Italian Catholic institutions are sheltering 45,000 refugees.

1.01 million refugees entered Europe in 2015, with a further 131,847 having arrived before March 7 this year. European countries are tightening border restrictions, leaving refugees stranded, and effectively converting Greece "into a refugee camp indefinitely," according to the Catholic Church's relief and development agency, Caritas.

The situation was catalysed by Austria stating it would only accept a handful of asylum seekers and refugees each day, sparking a "domino effect of borders being closed to the vast majority of those people fleeing war and poverty from the Middle East, Asia and Africa," the agency said.

On March 9, Slovenia and Croatia refused to allow refugees through their territory. Serbia and Macedonia have said they will do the same.