‘EU can rise to integration challenge’ says Pope Francis

The migrant crisis engulfing Europe poses a big challenge to its values and traditions, but the continent should be able to integrate newcomers without undermining the safety of its citizens, Pope Francis said.

More than 1m people sought refuge in Europe last year, many of them fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq.

A majority of the migrants are Muslims, and Europeans are worried about how to integrate them, especially since the November 13 attacks by Islamist militants in Paris that killed 130 people.

“The present wave of migration seems to be undermining the foundations of that humanistic spirit which Europe has always loved and defended,” the Pope said in an annual address to diplomats at the Vatican City, adding that he hoped countries would prove capable of welcoming the refugees.

“Europe, aided by its great cultural and religious heritage, has the means to defend the centrality of the human person and to find the right balance between its two-fold moral responsibility to protect the rights of its citizens and to ensure assistance and acceptance to migrants.”

The question of integration has dominated news headlines in the first two weeks of 2016 after assaults on women who had been celebrating New Year’s Eve in the German city of Cologne.

A police investigation has focused on asylum seekers and migrants and the assaults have prompted an anxious debate in Germany, which in 2015 took in around 1m migrants.

The Pope last year led calls for Europe to take in the migrants.

Looking to set an example, he called on all Roman Catholic parishes to house at least one refugee family, but his appeal has drawn a mixed response.

While praising Europe as a “beacon of humanity”, he said the West was suffering from a “vacuum of ideals and the loss of identity”, which he said provided fertile territory for the spread of extremism and religious fundamentalism.

“This vacuum gives rise to the fear which leads to seeing the other as a threat and an enemy,” he said.

The EU has struggled to cope with the tide of refugees, most of whom have arrived by sea in Greece and Italy before trying to reach wealthier northern EU states.

“It is important that nations in the forefront of meeting the present emergency not be left alone,” Pope Francis said, urging greater solidarity among European countries.

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