BOLOGNA, Italy (AP) — Pope Francis pressed his campaign for Europe to open its doors migrants Sunday, visiting a migrant center in northern Italy, breaking bread with refugees and insisting that politicians work for the most marginalized — not special interests.
During a busy day in Bologna, Francis spent an hour meeting with hundreds of migrants, patiently posing for selfies under drizzling skies. He later hosted a luncheon for asylum-seekers and prisoners in Bologna's St. Petronius basilica.
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 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 open humanitarian corridors to let refugees in more quickly. And he pressed local leaders to take up the charge, integrating them into their communities and working for the common good.
The visit to the migrant center was the highlight of a day that saw Francis pressing some of his top priorities: migrant welcome, dignified work for all and 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.
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 where the sense of community and belonging is borne.
"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.
It was the third time this week that Francis has emphasized the role of the public square, both physical and ideological, as a place of dialogue as Europe as a whole struggles to welcome and integrate migrants and refugees.
On Wednesday, he threw his arms open in an embrace mimicking the open-armed embrace of the colonnade of St. Peter's Square to urge politicians to welcome in migrants. And on Saturday, he urged local mayors to not focus on "building taller towers, but bigger piazzas."
Francis has demanded wealthy countries welcome in migrants fleeing conflicts, natural disasters and poverty, saying it's a Gospel-mandated duty of all Christians to welcome the stranger.