VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis appealed to nations on Wednesday to “open their hearts and open their doors” to migrants, saying those waiting at closed European borders in the cold and rain were made to feel like exiles abandoned by God.
Over 1.1 million migrants fleeing war and failed states flowed into the European Union in 2015 and the influx has continued, prompting countries straddling the main migration corridor through the Balkans to the wealthy north of the EU to seal their borders, trapping tens of thousands in Greece.
“How many of our brothers these days are living through a real and dramatic situation of exile, far from their homelands. In their eyes they still have the ruins of their homes,” Pope Francis told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square.
“They have fear in their hearts and unfortunately, often, the pain of having lost loved their ones,” Francis, who has made defense of migrants a major plank of his three-year-old papacy, said in mostly improvised remarks.
Macedonia trucked 1,500 migrants back to Greece after they forced their way across the border this week. Images of exhausted migrants fording a fast-moving stream in the cold were splashed across Italian newspapers this week.
“Immigrants today are suffering outdoors, without food, and cannot get in. They don’t feel welcome,” Pope Francis said, praising “nations and leaders who open their hearts and open their doors.
“How is it possible that so much suffering can befall innocent men, women and children? ... They are there at the border because so many doors and so many hearts are closed.”
The two small parishes inside the Vatican walls are each hosting a family of refugees, one of them Syrian.
EU efforts to seal a deal with Turkey to halt the migrant tide from that country into Europe in return for political and economic rewards stumbled on Tuesday when EU member Cyprus vowed to block it unless Ankara recognized its nationhood.
Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich