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Opinion

Opinion: Pope Francis stays true to himself

Pope Francis is set to embark on a trip to Lesbos to meet refugees. He's reaching out to the people to whom Europe has closed its borders. That's true to form for Francis, DW's Christoph Strack writes.

The European Union is celebrating its deal with Turkey on refugees. The number of refugees arriving in Schengen Europe via the Balkans has significantly dropped. Many countries are busy perfecting ways of shutting out refugees. They're building walls and fences and sending soldiers to guard their borders.

Against this backdrop, Pope Francis' visit to Lesbos on April 16, now officially confirmed by the Vatican, almost looks like a provocation. While Europeans are trying to keep those who want to get to Europe behind fences, he approaches them, wants to meet them and wants to spend time with them.

Francis is not a political realist; he is simply Francis. He is a radical who is convinced that Christian Europe's policies are just not sufficient. He won't accept the situation and he demands a lot - an awful lot. As did Saint Francis of Assisi, whose name Cardinal Mario Bergoglio chose during the papal conclave in 2013. He was reminded then by a fellow brother not to forget the poor.

Christoph Strack

DW's Christoph Strack

And that's his mission. "We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery," he said on November 25, 2014, in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. "The boats landing daily on the shores of Europe are filled with men and women who need acceptance and assistance. The absence of mutual support within the European Union runs the risk of encouraging particularistic solutions to the problem, solutions which fail to take into account the human dignity of immigrants." Most people clapped after that speech, which is just as valid today.

He also formulated his vision during the speech: Europe will be able to confront the problems associated with immigration only if it is capable of clearly asserting its own cultural identity and enacting adequate legislation to protect the rights of European citizens and to ensure the acceptance of immigrants. And he also mentioned the importance of aid in their countries of origin and of solving conflicts.

Trips to the fringes

Apart from the pope's visits within Italy, Strasbourg was his second day trip in Europe. Nine weeks earlier, he had gone to Albania, the Balkan poor house. His first-ever trip outside Rome - 100 days after he was elected - was to Lampedusa, the island that has long become synonymous with thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean.

To understand what Francis is about, you have to remember Lampedusa, and all the Lampedusas of this world. He pushes boundaries, and he feels the pain of those on the fringes of society, those that have been shut out.

It makes him sound utopian sometimes, even seditious occasionally, almost like a communist. Oh well, so be it. He is not a political realist. But there are many who shake their heads - who find him tedious.

In a month's time, hundreds of Germans and Europeans will go to the Vatican to see the pope receive the International Charlemagne Prize. Europe, wracked by insecurity, flirting with new, dark forms of nationalism and increasingly closing off its borders, is honoring its biggest and most provocative critic with one of its biggest prizes.

Whoever listens to him speak then, needs to take seriously what he said in Strasbourg and see his visits to Lampedusa and Lesbos as the gestures and signs that they are.

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