BOLOGNA, Italy — Pope Francis pressed his campaign for Europe to open its doors to migrants Sunday, visiting a migrant center in northern Italy, breaking bread with refugees and insisting that politicians work for the most marginalized people and not special interests.
During a busy day in Bologna, Francis spent over an hour meeting with hundreds of migrants, greeting them one-by-one and patiently posing for selfies under drizzly skies. He hosted a luncheon of lasagna and turkey for asylum-seekers and prisoners in Bologna’s basilica, sitting down at a table in front of the altar.
He drew cheers when he ad-libbed that he knew the migrants were desperate to have identification documents, and again when he insisted that each one had a name and a story of the tragedies endured to arrive in Italy. He donned the same plastic ID bracelet that the migrants were wearing and led hundreds in silent prayer for those who died in the journey.
“I hope your hope doesn’t become delusion, or worse, desperation,” he said.
Francis, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, urged European countries to open humanitarian corridors to let refugees in more quickly. And he pressed local leaders to integrate migrants into their communities.
The visit to the migrant center was the highlight of a day that saw Francis emphasizing some of his top priorities: welcoming migrants, having dignified work for all and having an ethics-based political leadership. It was a message that went over well in a region famous for its food, culture of welcome and left-leaning politics.
“We need words that reach minds and hearts, not screams to the gut,” he said.
At his first stop in Cesena, Francis spoke to thousands in the main square about the importance of “piazza” in the life of a city, a place where people of all stripes come together and share a sense of community.
“This piazza, like all the other piazzas of Italy, recalls the need for good politics in the life of a community, not one that serves individual ambitions or the power of factions or interests,” he said.
Francis also honored Bologna as a historic center of learning and culture, noting that its university is the longest-continually operated university in the west. He told students they had a right to culture, hope and peace — and said recent populist and nationalist movements in Europe were threatening that peace.
Francis didn’t refer directly to the violence that broke out during Catalonia’s disputed independence referendum Sunday. But he urged Europeans to put aside nationalistic and other interests for the sake of unity.
“Don’t be afraid of unity!” he said. “May special interests and nationalism not render the courageous dreams of the founders of the European Union in vain.”
Winfield reported from Rome.