Once again, Pope Francis urges the world to welcome and protect refugees and migrants

ReutersPope Francis greets the crowds in St Peter's Square, Vatican

Pope Francis has again promoted the cause of refugees and migrants, saying that every stranger represents an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ and re-emphasising the need 'to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate'.

The message, released by the Vatican, comes ahead of the 104th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, which will be celebrated on January 14, 2018.

And its release follows the publication yesterday by the Vatican of major new policy document which challenged world leaders to do more for the protection of refugees and migrants in a move it hopes will galvanise action in the same way as his 2015 letter on climate change.

That document, Responding to Refugees and Migrants: Twenty Action Points, was produced by a special Vatican unit set up by Pope Francis, and reported yesterday by Christian Today.

The new message from Pope Francis says: 'Every stranger who knocks at our door is an opportunity for an encounter with Jesus Christ, who identifies with the welcomed and rejected strangers of every age.'

It continues: 'The Lord entrusts to the Church's motherly love every person forced to leave their homeland in search of a better future.This solidarity must be concretely expressed at every stage of the migratory experience – from departure through journey to arrival and return. This is a great responsibility, which the Church intends to share with all believers and men and women of good will, who are called to respond to the many challenges of contemporary migration with generosity, promptness, wisdom and foresight, each according to their own abilities.'

The Pope reaffirms a message he has repeated before, that 'our shared response may be articulated by four verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote and to integrate'.

He expands on each theme: 'Considering the current situation, welcoming means, above all, offering broader options for migrants and refugees to enter destination countries safely and legally. This calls for a concrete commitment to increase and simplify the process for granting humanitarian visas and for reunifying families.

'At the same time, I hope that a greater number of countries will adopt private and community sponsorship programmes, and open humanitarian corridors for particularly vulnerable refugees. Furthermore, special temporary visas should be granted to people fleeing conflicts in neighbouring countries.

'Collective and arbitrary expulsions of migrants and refugees are not suitable solutions, particularly where people are returned to countries which cannot guarantee respect for human dignity and fundamental rights. Once again, I want to emphasise the importance of offering migrants and refugees adequate and dignified initial accommodation.'

Meanwhile, 'protecting,' says the Pope, 'may be understood as a series of steps intended to defend the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees, independent of their legal status. Such protection begins in the country of origin, and consists in offering reliable and verified information before departure, and in providing safety from illegal recruitment practices.

Promoting, he says, 'essentially means a determined effort to ensure that all migrants and refugees – as well as the communities which welcome them – are empowered to achieve their potential as human beings, in all the dimensions which constitute the humanity intended by the Creator.'

When it comes to integration, finally, the Pope says: 'I reiterate the need to foster a culture of encounter in every way possible – by increasing opportunities for intercultural exchange, documenting and disseminating best practices of integration, and developing programmes to prepare local communities for integration processes.

'I wish to stress the special case of people forced to abandon their country of arrival due to a humanitarian crisis. These people must be ensured adequate assistance for repatriation and effective reintegration programmes in their home countries.'

The new Vatican policy document, meanwhile, urges governments to see migration 'not as a new phenomenon, but rather as a natural human response to crisis and a testament to the innate desire of every human being for happiness and a better life'. The 20 points, it says, 'advocate effective and proven measures which together constitute an integral response to the current challenges' and are based on the Church's practical experience of working with migrants and refugees.

The action points lay out specific proposals from the Church for governments to consider, ranging from the creation of humanitarian corridors for people fleeing conflict and providing access to work and education for refugees.

The manifesto also calls for greater support for countries which have borne the lion's share of migrants, many of which suffer from high levels of poverty themselves.

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