Pope Francis on Wednesday afternoon met with Carlos and Rodolfo Luna, two Argentinian brothers who lived in exile in Sweden. The Holy Father had known the wife of one of them, the deceased Esther Balestrino De Careaga – known as ‘Estercita’ – since he had once worked with her mother in a chemical laboratory before he entered the Jesuit order. The Pope recalled that he had hidden the books of their library in the Collegio Massimo in Buenos Aires in the period during which they were under surveillance by the dictatorship.
During his hour-long meeting with the men and their guests, Pope Francis spoke about their mutual acquaintance – including a man working to fight slave labor and child prostitution in their native Argentina – and his encounters with the Swedish people.
The Pope remembered his friendship with a Lutheran minister , Anders Gutt – “a big man” – with whom he shared the professorship of spiritual theology in Buenos Aires.
“We were a Jesuit priest and a Lutheran,” Pope Francis said. “We understood each other very well.”
Pastor Gutt is now deceased.
The Pope thanked Sweden for being a humane monarchy.
“How nice to find people with such a heart!” he said. “ And Sweden has great saints. At the beginning of Christianity, Saint Bridget, the nun, and also among the Lutherans … The Lutherans are a church of great men and women.”
Pope Francis then said he wished to exploit – “in the best sense of the word” – the historical reception offered by the Swedish people and the welcoming experienced by the Luna brothers at a time when refugees are not treated so well.
“We have so many refugees, but no one wants them. They are a ‘bad word’,” Pope Francis said. “Perhaps the message is the salvation of a people is also joined with those who are suffering exile from their homeland… Because God blesses. God blesses that. That’s being a brother… Well, we in our Christian faith must make clear that Jesus was a refugee when they wanted to kill a child … It’s one of the first messages of the Gospels… Jesus was a refugee. He was not a tourist. It was not for work. He was fleeing death. A refugee.”
The Pope remembered the one million refugees in Lebanon and the fact that there are countries which cruelly close their borders.
He contrasted this with the reception offered by Sweden.
“Sweden opens its borders, organizes language classes, gives economic assistance, and offers paths to join society,” Pope Francis said. “They do not have anyone in a concentration camp and other such terrifying places. That’s an example we can present to the world. Because in reality it is the only country that is doing that, and is not filled with misery. It is not thereby suffering. This is the message Sweden presents. Open your heart to your brother, your sister, who has nowhere to live, to work, to sleep peacefully.”
When asked about Lampedusa, the Pope repeated what he said when he visited the island on July 8, 2013.
“The globalization of indifference,” he said. “Refugees! We think of them! In Lampedusa, the people felt the need to accommodate them. To welcome them. The people of Lampedusa, with their mayor, who is a woman – a strong and brave woman – took on this mission of welcome. There you will see how it is done.”
The Pope added that although Lampedusa is doing the right thing, there is no room to accommodate all those who are landing on the island.
As for the rest of Europe, the Pope said refugees are not well received , and end up on the street, stealing, or in prostitution. He spoke of the work of the Centro Astalli, the Jesuit refugee centre in Rome, but said much more needs to be done.
The Pope also mentioned the good work different Vatican offices are doing to help refugees and combat human trafficking.
In addition, Pope Francis spoke about the 4 million immigrants in Argentina, the vast majority of whom are Paraguayans and Bolivians.
“In my opinion, the Paraguayan woman is the most heroic in the Americas,” he said. “After the war [The War of the Triple Alliance – 1864–1870 – in which nearly half-a-million Paraguayans died], out of every ten people , eight were women. And these women made the great decision to have children… To save the country , the language, the culture and the faith. I wish that one day the Nobel Prize Committee would give the Nobel prize to the Paraguayan woman . To have saved her culture, her country. It was heroic! I nominate her!” [laughter]
Concerning the specific question of a visit to Sweden, the Pope replied that he would like to go to the country, but that he does not believe he can do so because he has little time available.
“I have to do so many things,” Pope Francis said. “I do not know . If God will give me time, I will go .”
Source: Vatican Radio