Pope Francis decries “epidemic of animosity” against immigrants, other faiths

Pope Francis speaks as he leads a consistory ceremony to install 17 new cardinals in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican November 19, 2016. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Saturday said an “epidemic of animosity” against people of other races or religions was hurting the weakest in society, as he struck a note of caution against the rise of populist nationalism.

Little more than a week after Donald Trump was elected the next U.S. president, buoying anti-immigrant parties in Europe and elsewhere, the pope said people should not be seen as enemies just because they were different.

“We see, for example, how quickly those among us with the status of a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy,” Francis said at a ceremony to induct new cardinals.

“An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs. An enemy because of the colour of their skin, their language or their social class. An enemy because they think differently or even have a different faith,” he said.

While not naming any country, Francis appeared to refer to the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim attitudes that surfaced during the U.S. campaign and since the election.

The U.S. Justice Department said on Friday it was investigating reports of intimidation and harassment, including in schools and churches since the election.

“How many wounds grow deeper due to this epidemic of animosity and violence, which leaves its mark on the flesh of many of the defenceless, because their voice is weak and silenced by this pathology of indifference,” the pope said.

The Church itself was not immune to “a virus of polarisation and animosity,” he said, an apparent reference to a public challenge to the pope by four conservative cardinals, who accused him of sowing confusion on important moral issues..

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In the “consistory” ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis appointed 17 new cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church, 13 of them under 80 years old and thus eligible to succeed him one day.

Naming new cardinals is a significant power that allows a pontiff to put his stamp on the future of the 1.2-billion-member Church. The new cardinals come from 15 countries and many are progressives like the pope. Three come from the United States.

The new cardinal-electors under 80 come from Italy, the Central African Republic, Spain, the United States, Brazil, Bangladesh, Venezuela, Belgium, Mauritius, Mexico and Papua New Guinea.

Those over 80 and not eligible to take part in a papal conclave come from Italy, Malaysia, Lesotho and Albania.

Francis has now named 44 cardinal-electors, slightly more than a third of the total of 120 allowed by Church law.

It was Francis’ third consistory since his election in 2013 as the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years and he has used each occasion to show support for the Church in far flung places or where Catholics are suffering.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)


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