VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Sunday welcomed 5,000 migrants at a special Mass at St. Peter’s Square to mark the world day of migrants and refugees, urging them to treasure their “culture and precious values.”
“Your presence here at this square is a sign of hope in God. Don’t let yourselves be stripped of this hope and joy of living,” he said at the close of his weekly Angelus prayer.
Francis has repeatedly called on European states to welcome people fleeing war and misery amid the continent’s worst migrant crisis since World War II.
After the prayer, the pope hailed “with great affection the ethnic communities present” in the Vatican City and “the people who help and welcome” the migrants.
“Dear migrants and refugees, each of you carries a history, a culture, precious values; and often, unfortunately, experiences of poverty, oppression and fear,” he said.
The event was part of the Catholic Church’s Jubilee Year, which Francis on Sunday called “the jubilee of migrants.”
Meanwhile the pope also called on the worshippers to pray for the four victims of Thursday’s Jakarta attack and the 29 killed in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, in a jihadi assault on Friday night, and for the victims of an attack in Jakarta last week by the Islamic State group.
“May the Lord welcome them into his house, and support the commitment of the international community to build peace,” he said.
After the prayer, thousands of migrants were set to enter the basilica through one of the “holy doors” opened for the special year which is dedicated to the theme of mercy.
The Lampedusa crucifix, a cross made from the wood of a boat used by migrants, was brought to Rome for the occasion.
Francis also thanked three prisoners serving sentences for murder in a prison near Milan for making the communion wafers for the Mass.
The pontiff used an address to Vatican ambassadors on Monday to urge European governments to keep welcoming migrants, while acknowledging security and other concerns over the recent mass influx of people from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa.