Pope Francis condemns Europeans for not taking in more African Muslim migrants, but says little about the plight of persecuted African Christians at the hands of Muslims.

For years, sub-Saharan Africans—in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, and numerous other nations—have been victims of sustained persecution and frequent massacres.  

And for years, Pope Francis has, on numerous occasions, chastised Europeans for their “indifference” to Africans. Is he concerned about the African Christians who are being slaughtered on a daily basis by Muslims in the name of Allah?

Er, no. Francis has been relatively silent about their plight. One gets the impression that he is—what’s the word?—“indifferent” to their fate.

On the other hand, he seems deeply concerned about the fate of North African Muslims who migrate across the Mediterranean to Europe. He describes their treatment by Europeans as “disgusting, sinful, and criminal.”

What are Europeans doing to merit such a strong condemnation from the pope? Are they hunting down Muslims in France just as Muslims hunt Christians in Nigeria? Are they burning down their villages? Murdering them with machetes? Raping their women? Forcing their children to convert to Christianity?

Well, no. Basically, Pope Francis is angry because the Europeans aren’t taking in enough immigrants fast enough. In addition, he seems to think that the immigrants aren’t offered sufficient social services. Yet, European leaders protest that they are doing all they can.

In France, for example, the state provides immigrants with free or highly subsidized housing, free medical care, free education, unemployment benefits, and so on. The Netherlands provides a similar array of benefits to migrants but can’t build housing fast enough to keep up with the flow of new arrivals. As a result, immigrants are now being housed in four-star hotels and on luxurious cruise ships. For example, the city of Rotterdam has chartered the MS Silja Europa, the 10th-largest cruise liner in the world, to accommodate 1500 migrants.

It’s difficult to square this generous treatment with Pope Francis’ assertion that the treatment of the immigrants is “disgusting, sinful, and criminal”—especially when one considers that immigrants are often given priority over poor and needy Europeans when it comes to housing and welfare benefits.

However, one can sympathize with the pope’s concern over the many immigrants who drown during the perilous crossing from North Africa to Europe’s Southern coast. “They are left to die in front of us,” he says, “making the Mediterranean the largest cemetery in the world.” But European governments do not control the weather in the Mediterranean. Nor do they supply the unseaworthy and overcrowded boats that depart from North Africa. Moreover, European coast guard ships have rescued hundreds if not thousands of migrants over the years. In addition, cruise ships, merchant ships, and fishing ships have taken part in rescue efforts.

In light of this, Pope Francis’ assertion that “they are left to die in front of us” is more than a little misleading.

And what of Francis himself? Doesn’t he bear some responsibility for the deaths? After all, he is one of the world’s chief proponents of immigration and one of the chief scolds of those who are unwilling to accept a steady stream of migrants into their countries. He knows that the crossing is dangerous, yet he continues to insist that the crossings must continue and that it is the duty of European countries to somehow guarantee the safety of the immigrants.

Yet, the disembarkation points are located for the most part in Muslim countries. Aren’t Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt in a better position to see to it that only seaworthy ships set sail? Why doesn’t Francis scold them? Well, to put it mildly, it’s not advisable to scold Muslims, or hold them to account. And, as far as I can tell, Francis never has.

Although he criticizes Europeans for their supposed indifference to immigrants, he has nothing to say about the responsibility of the immigrants to obey the laws of their adopted countries.

Let’s stop here for a minute and note that although immigrants come to Western Europe from many places—Poland, Romania, Ukraine, China, Vietnam, India—the single largest bloc of immigrants are Muslims coming from Islamic nations. The former tend to work hard, rely less on welfare, and integrate well into the culture and customs of their new nation. By contrast, the latter (the Muslims) rely heavily on welfare, don’t integrate well, and are disproportionately involved in crime. In France, for instance Muslims make up 70 percent of the prison population. Moreover, the 2015-2016 mass immigration of Muslims into Europe coincided with a massive crime spike, including a number of large-scale massacres.

Pope Francis is surely aware of the connection between Muslim immigration and crime waves in Europe, yet he never speaks of it. Likewise, he has little to say about the persecutions in the sub-Saharan regions of Africa and virtually nothing to say about who is doing the persecuting.

What’s happening in large parts of Africa is difficult to ignore. In July, Muslims killed 37 Christians in Benue State in Nigeria. In June, the AP reported that authorities in Uganda “recovered the bodies of 41 people, including 38 students who were burned, shot, or hacked to death” after an Islamic group with ties to ISIS attacked a secondary school. Francis may think that the Mediterranean is the world’s largest graveyard, but in recent decades far more people have been murdered in Nigeria alone than have perished in the Mediterranean.

Many have referred to the slaughter in Africa as a genocide. Yet Francis manages to avoid the subject of Muslim persecution of Christians both in Africa and elsewhere. The question that arises is “Why?” How can one explain his seeming indifference?

One possible explanation is that Francis fears that the truth about Islamic violence would undermine one of his favorite narratives—namely, that Islam is a religion of peace. One of Francis’ pet projects is the creation of a humanist, one-world religion. And a key part of that project is to reconcile Christianity and Islam on the basis that both share the same religious and humanitarian values.

Of course, the idea is absurd. While individual Muslims may be compassionate and humanitarian, there is practically nothing in the Koran that would inspire a love of one’s non-Muslim neighbors. The same can be said of Ibn Ishaq’s The Life of Muhammad. Its 800 pages are mostly a record of battles, preparation for battles, and division of spoils after the battles.

Is Pope Francis serious about this one-world synthetic religion project? It certainly looks that way. Shortly after becoming pope, he pleaded with Ahmad al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, to resume the dialogue with Rome that al-Tayyeb had cancelled. In the ensuing years, a number of meetings with the Grand Imam resulted in the 2019 “Document on Human Fraternity,” which was co-signed by the two men in Abu Dhabi.

The main message of the document is that all religions share common beliefs and values. However, the values cited—tolerance, acceptance, fraternity, mutual understanding, and so forth—are mostly humanist values. The document seems to assume that the theological issues that divide religions will melt away once people get to know and understand each other better.

It was a dubious proposition, but the idea spread. The Higher Committee of Human Fraternity was formed, and plans were made for the construction of a multi-million-dollar Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi which “epitomizes interfaith harmonious coexistence.” The Document on Human Fraternity was also the inspiration for Pope Francis’ third encyclical, Fratelli tutti (All Brothers), which calls for even more fraternity and friendship but has relatively little to say about God.

Having committed so much time and energy to convincing the world that all religions are peaceful, tolerant, and brotherly, Francis would understandably be reluctant to admit that Muslims were making war against Christians and non- Christians all over the planet. It would make him look both naïve and foolish.

One might think that, having been elected to head the Catholic Church, the pope’s first duty is to Catholics and other Christians. But Francis seems to see things the other way around. He seems to see himself not only as the Catholic pope but as pope of the world. 

For example, he recently opened World Youth Day, which used to be a strictly Catholic event, to young people of every faith. At the same time, however, he talks and acts as though there is nothing special about the Catholic Church. In fact, he has spoken out strongly against any effort to convert those of other religions to the Catholic Faith—presumably on the assumption that all religions are salvific.

In this light, it’s not surprising that Francis might conclude that a vulnerable Christian in Nigeria has no more claim on his attention than a Moroccan Muslim standing in line at the Paris welfare office. And since Francis tends to look upon Muslims as victims and upon Christians as oppressors, it’s likely that he will have more sympathy for the former.

Francis’ double standard calls to mind Mrs. Jellyby, a character in Dickens’ novel Bleak House. Mrs. Jellyby is what Dickens calls a “telescopic philanthropist.” She devotes all her time and energy to a project that will supposedly benefit natives in a faraway part of Africa while ignoring the needy in her own family and neighborhood. She loves humanity, but she has no time for her husband (who is on the verge of suicide) or for her unhappy children.

Pope Francis seems to be a modern-day Mrs. Jellyby. He cares for all humanity, but he seems indifferent to those for whom he has a direct responsibility—the Christian family that has been entrusted to him.

This article originally appeared in the August 24, 2023 edition of Crisis.

Pictured above: African child

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