Pope Francis warns that popular nationalism can unleash ‘epidemic of animosity’

Pope Francis in the Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, November 20, 2016. © Tiziana Fabi
Speaking at a ceremony to induct new cardinals, Pope Francis raised the alarm about how quickly prejudice can spread, urging humanity to recognize the “epidemic of animosity” that often comes with popular nationalism.

Apparently referring to the rise of populist politics in Europe and fears about Trump’s presidential victory in the US, the pope warned of “how quickly those among us with the status of a stranger, an immigrant or a refugee, become a threat and take on the status of an enemy.”

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

The pontiff’s sentiments appear to be tied to increasing fears that there will be an anti-immigrant backlash across Europe due to the current refugee crisis and Donald Trump’s election victory in the US less than two weeks ago. There has been a rise in rightist sentiments in Europe over the past two years resulting in the right-wing politicians making big strides amidst social upheavals.

“How many wounds grow deeper due to this epidemic of animosity and violence, which leaves its mark on the flesh of many of the defenseless, because their voice is weak and silenced by this pathology of indifference,” he continued, as cited by the Guardian.

The Pope’s comments come amid an escalation in anti-immigrant violence. In the US, 437 incidents of alleged intimidation and harassment against immigrants were recorded immediately after the election, from November 9 to14, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The 79-year-old pontiff has been at the forefront of campaigning for migrant rights, and provided no shortage of statements appealing to people’s humanity during the refugee crisis.

The Pope also pointed out that the Church itself is no stranger to “a virus of polarization and animosity,” which appeared to refer to dissenting voices among the cardinals, some of whom have accused Francis of sowing discord among the Church-going flock with moral stances that challenge the official position of the Church.
Francis has never flinched from criticizing the Vatican, which has made him appear to be progressive compared to his predecessors.

The pope was speaking at a ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica where he appointed 17 new cardinals hailing from the US, Brazil, Belgium, the Central African Republic, Spain, and Papua New Guinea, among other countries. Thirteen are under the age of 80, meaning they are eligible to become Francis’s successor, and many are considered progressives, like Francis.

One of the cardinals appointed by the pope was Joseph Tobin from the United States, who protested the election of Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, as governor of Indiana by opening his church’s doors to Syrian refugees. Tobin is on track to become archbishop of Newark, New Jersey.

Francis also named 44 of the 120 cardinal-electors allowed by the Church at the ceremony, which was his third inauguration of cardinals since taking on the post in 2013.